Nothing to Fear with New START Verification

Jul 8, 2010


By Oliver Bloom


Last month, the New START Working Group at The Heritage Foundation released a Backgrounder on the verification regime in New START, criticizing the “weak verification measures” as a “step in the wrong direction” and “not sufficient to detect large-scale cheating by the Russian Federation.” The report lists six shortcomings with New START’s verification regime:
(1)   The elimination of START’s verification measures for monitoring mobile ICBMs;
(2)   The weakening of the exchange provisions for missile telemetry;
(3)   Reductions in the number and overall effectiveness of inspections;
(4)   Deficiencies in the verification regime’s ability to confirm the number of deployed ICBM and SLBM warheads;
(5)   Elimination of the limits on the size and power of ballistic missiles, which constrain the maximum number of warheads that can be carried on a missile;
(6)   Weaker procedural requirements for eliminating strategic nuclear delivery vehicles and launchers.  
While both military and state department officials have expressed confidence in the New START verification measures, the best evaluation comes from the classified National Intelligence Estimate recently shared with the Senate. However, an analysis of the original rationale for the START ratification regime, followed by a careful evaluation of New START’s measures, when coupled with the statements from various informed officials, would certainly give us far more confidence than the Heritage Working Group. 
The Working Group’s first complaint is that not only does New START lack specific limitations on mobile ICBMs, but that it also
            abolishes the dedicated verification regime for mobile ICBMs.
As the Group alleges
increasing reliance by Moscow on mobile ICBMs and past treaty violations associated with mobile missiles compels increased vigilance here, not less.
Two points here. First, as Amy Woolf points out in her Congressional Research Service report on the history of monitoring and verification in arms controls,
concerns about the Soviet Union’s ability to break out of the treaty limits with mobile ICBMs served as the foundation for the monitoring regime for mobile ICBMs in START. This regime was designed not only to provide the parties with the means to count deployed missiles, but also to limit the ability of either side to “hide” extra missiles near the deployed force or to increase the number of deployed missiles quickly.
But as she points out,
the task of monitoring mobile ICBMs may be less complicated in the current environment. After 15 years of START implementation, the United States has far less uncertainty in its estimate of the number of mobile ICBMs in Russia’s strategic forces. Moreover, Russia is producing new missiles at a far lower rate than the Soviet Union produced them during the 1980s, so the United States may find it easier to keep track of missile production with [National Technical Means - NTM].  
The explicit limits on mobile ICBMs and various verification measures in the original START were designed to assuage U.S. fears regarding the Soviet ability to breakout of treaty limits with mobile ICBMs and where the United States would be unable to detect such a breakout. The lack of any U.S. fear about a looming Russian mobile ICBM breakout, coupled with the vastly improved U.S. NTM over the past twenty years nullifies this first point. As Under Secretary Tauscher succinctly said on whether the United States had any concerns about mobile ICBM verification under New START,
we believe that we have enough enhanced transparency and supplemental verification that will give us everything that we need. And so we’re confident that we will be able to have what we need.
Under New START, any current mobile or future mobile ICBMs of a current design are counted under overarching numeric limits. If the Russians were to develop new designs for mobile ICBMs, not only would those fall under the Treaty as soon as they leave the production facility (see Article III, Section 5(b)), but also,
When a Party believes that a new kind of strategic offensive arm is emerging, that Party shall have the right to raise the question of such a strategic offensive arm for consideration in the Bilateral Consultative Commission [see Article V, Section 2].
Second point: the Working Group alleges a history of Russian cheating (drawing on the State Department’s 2005 arms compliance report) that necessitated increased American vigilance. The Center of Arms Control and Nonproliferation has already responded to this allegation:
While Congress is supposed to receive a compliance report every year, the Bush administration completed only two from 2001-2009, the first in June 2003 and the second in August 2005. The 2005 report contained far more detail about Russian implementation of START I than previous reports claiming, among other things, that Russia was not allowing the U.S. to effectively monitor and verify some Russian warheads and missiles. Yet Russia has also raised unresolved issues pertaining to its inability to verify the number of warheads on U.S. Trident II missiles. Compliance concerns on both sides have existed for some time, which is precisely why the JCIC exists.
In a Senate floor speech delivered on November 5, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) stated that concerns about Russian cheating have been greatly overblown. According to Lugar, “such concerns fail to appreciate how much information is provided through the exchange of data mandated by the Treaty, on-site inspections, and national technical means. Our experiences over many years have proven the effectiveness of the Treaty’s verification provisions and served to build a basis for confidence between the two countries when doubts arose. The bottom line is that the United States is far safer as a result of those 600 START inspections than we would be without them.”
The Working Group’s second objection concerns the “demise of the START I telemetry regime,” which had mandate the broadcast of telemetry from every flight test, the sharing of tapes and data and a prohibition on the encryption of telemetry. As the Group sees it,
the demise of the START I telemetry regime will deny the United States the technical information needed to make intelligent decisions with regard to Moscow’s compliance with the Treaty and to evaluate the potential threat posed by Russian nuclear forces.
Here again, Amy Woolf comes to the rescue. She notes that contemporary American NTM, many of which are classified, can provide that same capability without the Russians directly providing the data. What’s more, as she explains,
Secretary of Defense Gates noted…”that the United States does not need telemetry from Russian missile flight tests to verify Russian compliance with the treaty.” This is because the new treaty does not limit missile throweight, and it will not use the maximum number of warheads tested on a missile as the source for the number of warheads assigned to each missile. Nevertheless, the parties agreed to broadcast and exchange some telemetry to increase transparency and ensure a degree of understanding of their strategic offensive forces.
Senator Al Franken has also done his best to explain this point:
However, the simple fact is, as Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have both testified, we don’t need telemetry to monitor compliance with this treaty.  Unlike the original START, the new treaty has no limits on missile throw-weight. Hence, we don’t need to verify compliance with such limits. We also don’t need telemetry to help attribute a number of warheads to a missile type.  The new treaty doesn’t use such an attribution rule the way the old treaty did.  Instead, we actually count the number of warheads on a missile.  This is both more precise and eliminates a problem we had run into with the old treaty’s rule, which forced us to over-count the number of warheads that are actually on our missiles.
If one doesn’t believe Amy Woolf’s analysis or Senator Franken, one could also listen to James N. Miller, Jr., Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, who, while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the verification methods in New START, explained
we achieved in a sense more than was absolutely necessary for verification, the provisions of this treaty are not dependant on telemetry unlike some of the provisions of the START treaty, and yet we have a provision to exchange telemetric information and up to five missile launches per year.
It should also be noted, as Amy Woolf does, that
During the negotiations on the new START Treaty, Russia strongly resisted provisions that would require the broadcast and exchange of telemetry from missile flight tests. It argued that this provision was unfair and created unequal obligations because it was developing new types of missiles and, therefore, broadcasting new data while the United States was only conducting occasional tests of missiles.
The Heritage Working Group is thus correct in complaining that the New START verification regime’s lack of complete telemetric exchange hampers the U.S. ability to evaluate the potential threat of future Russian nuclear forces. However, START’s telemetric exchange was never intended to give the United States insight into such information, the United States now has the advanced NTM to observe Russian tests on its own, and perhaps most importantly, there was no chance of the complete telemetric exchange of ever taking place. The United States currently has no access to any telemetric flight data (because of the expiration of START), and would not have gotten complete access in any future agreements (because, despite trying, it was neither needed nor would the Russians accept it). The point about the lack of telemetric exchange is bogus. 
What’s more, as former Secretary of Defense William Perry explained,
While telemetry is not necessary for verification of this treaty or for our security interests, the continued exchange of telemetry is in our joint interest as a further confidence-building measure.
In short, the five telemetric exchanges is not a bad thing, rather it is a very good thing. 
Third, the Working Group notes of a “reduction in the overall number and overall effectiveness of inspections.” On the surface, they are correct, the New START agreement involves only 18 annual inspections of two different types, while the original START agreement involved 28 annual inspects of 12 different types. Admiral Mullen has explained, however, that
under the previous treaty, there's [sic] 73 facilities that we inspected….Under this treaty, there are only 27. And in fact, based on the number of inspections -- 18 -- there are almost twice as many inspections per facility, per year than under the previous treaty.  
Senator Casey has also pointed out that
Because the Russian strategic nuclear forces have contracted so much over the past 15 years, we have certainly not lost anything in the number of inspections we carry out per facility. This does not take into account that some of the inspections under the new START treaty allow us to do two inspections at once, unlike under the original START verification regime.
I would also assert that the inspection's regime has also changed to reflect the current security environment, an enhanced relationship with the Russian federation, and because of more than a decade of experience in conducting inspections. The inspection regime is simpler and cheaper than what was
What’s more, Amy Woolf notes that a
Comparison will not provide useful answers about the verifiability of the new START Treaty if it simply compares the lists of inspections, notifications, data exchanges, and cooperative activities mandated by the two treaties. Even though more transparency and cooperation may be preferred in the abstract, the monitoring measures in the new treaty “should be determined by the treaty’s specific limits and the need to verify those limits.
The new number of inspections and the simplified types reflects a new reality: the United States is no longer as suspicious about Russian intentions of cheating, no longer needs the redundancy in inspections and has improved its NTM to such an extent that it no longer needs to rely so heavily on inspections, all of which mean that it can have an inspection regime that is simpler, less costly, and more streamlined. 
Fourth, the Working Group faults New START’s ability to verify the number of deployed warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs. They base this on two points: one, that New START’s exemption of mobile ICBM inspections at maintenance facilities could also the Russians to move their entire mobile ICBM to maintenance facilities and thus exempt them from inspection; and two, that the Russians have hampered U.S. inspections regarding the visual counting of the number of reentry vehicles on Russian missiles (as is alleged in the 2005 State Department compliance report). 
The first point is bogus. If the authors had looked at Amy Woolf’s CRS report, they would see that she writes
The new START Treaty will contain an extensive database, listing the number and location of every deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicle and every deployed and non-deployed missile in the Russian arsenal. The database will also list the precise number of warheads deployed on each missile.
The proposed inspections, that allow the verification of the number of warheads deployed on ICBMs and SLBMs, notifications of movement, U.S. NTM and a database of unique identifiers surely should all but guarantee that the U.S. knows the number of warheads on Russian mobile ICBMs, whether or not they are not at the maintenance facilities. What’s more, if the United States somehow feels that the Russians were cheating, they could take their issues up with the Bilateral Consultative Commission. The only way the Russians could get around all of this would be to immediately move all their mobile ICBMs to maintenance facilities before inspections begin (assuming New START is ratified) and thus never allow the United States to inspect how many warheads are atop each missile. If that were to be the case, they would only be able to move their current mobile ICBMs, of which there are only a limited number, and U.S. NTM could pick up the movement anyways. The United States could complain to the BCC, and if nothing changes, withdraw from the treaty. Surely, U.S. NTM is advanced enough to notice every Russian mobile ICBM being moved to a maintenance facility. But more importantly, the entire argument presumes that the Russians are lying from the very get go and have no intention of following the spirit of the treaty. No one involved in the process believes this. 
Fifth, the Heritage Working Group notes that “limits on the size and power of ballistic missiles have been eliminated.” As they see it
the combination of unlimited ballistic missile throw-weight, the ability to flight test an unlimited number of reentry vehicles on ballistic missiles, a new heavy ICBM, oversized RV covers, or highly enriched uranium nuclear warheads declared to be non-nuclear objects creates the possibility of almost unlimited cheating.
There are two types of critiques here: those that deal with verification techniques, and those that deal with treaty provisions. With regards to the former, the claims about oversized RV covers have already been explained by Senator Lugar, and what’s more, such future issues can be settled before the BCC. As for the idea that HEU warheads could be declared to be non-nuclear objects (the Working Group suggests that the neutron detectors used in verification “may not be adequate for detecting nuclear warheads based upon HEU”), New START still gives the United States the option of gaining approval for new detection equipment through the BCC. Taken together, if the United States were to feel that the Russians were consistently covering up reentry vehicles or lying about warheads and the BCC was unable to resolve the issue and unwilling to allow new detection equipment, then the United States would have obvious grounds to withdraw from the treaty. 
Ambassador Linton Brooks, former Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, tackled these issues before New START appeared
There's been some very limited use radiation detection equipment. It's in a specialized circumstance primarily to demonstrate that something that's under cover - re-entry vehicle inspections are done with a cover to protect classified details. Each side has accused the other of making the covers so large that they are - essentially could be anything under there. We finally resolved that issue with respect to Trident.
We've resolved some issues with respect to the Russian Federation by indicating that there is no - using radiation detection equipment to demonstrate that there is - in certain components aren't warheads. We haven't used it very much, and I - once again, since I don't think this year we'll introduce anything new, I wouldn't expect the treaty of the end of the year to introduce it.
The Working Group’s other three points concern throw-weight, the lack of limits on reentry vehicles and the development of a new ICBM, all of which have little to do with the verification techniques per se, but rather they deal with the explicit limits within New START. On throw-weight, Ambassador Linton Brooks, a key player in the original START I agreements and an expert on nuclear issues, explained before the New START agreement was even announced that
I don't want to predict, but I would be stunned if throwweight appears in the follow-on treaty [New START] unless it is just purely to buy off some constituency somewhere. It no longer makes sense.
The lack of limits on reentry vehicles is unimportant because, as Rose Gottemoeller explains,
The Parties will receive a realistic accounting of the number of reentry vehicles actually emplaced on each Party’s deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and the opportunity to monitor the declared numbers through on-site inspections
The development of a new, possibly heavy, ICBM is equally trivial because the new missile and its warheads would all fall under the numeric limits of New START. The Russians are free to develop a new heavy ICBM with as many warheads on it as they like, but it will still fall under New START.  The argument that the Russians will be able to produce vast numbers of a new heavy missile with multiple reentry vehicles that the United States somehow misses simply does not hold water. 
Sixth and finally, the Working Group that New START has “weaker procedural requirements for eliminating strategic nuclear delivery vehicles and launchers.” They allege that
New START procedures to observe debris, instead of observing actual eliminations, appears [sic] riduiculous if this measure is intended to provide verification. Even worse, is the provision that limits observation of debris to only half of the missiles.
What’s important here is that the observation of debris is only to supplement the elimination that can be observed by NTM. As the Treaty Protocol states:
the eliminated solid-fueled ICBMs and solid-fueled SLBMs shall remain visible to national technical means of verification for a 60-day period. The Party receiving such notification shall have the right, within a 30-day period beginning on the date of provision of notification to conduct an inspection of the eliminated solid-fueled ICBMs and solid-fueled SLBMs.
 What’s more, if either party believes the eliminating procedures are inadequate, then they have a right to demand a demonstration of the procedures. As James Miller said in his Senate testimony,
The conversion and elimination provisions of the new START treaty are designed to allow both the United States and Russia to convert or eliminate strategic offensive arms in a transparent, simplified and less costly manner than was the case under START. 
Thus, the fear that the Russians will be able to fake the eliminating of their ICBMs is unfounded. 
In sum, the Heritage Working Group is right to closely analyze the specific means of verification in New START. But after civilian and military leaders have both expressed confidence in the verification methods, such continued criticism becomes unfounded. If those individuals both with the most expertise on the issues at stake and with the most to lose express confidence, then surely one can have faith. 
As Admiral Mullen said in his Senate testimony,
the verification procedures for this treaty are very robust and meet the standards that we have today in the 21st century and not the ones that we needed back in previous treaties.
And as Secretary Gates said at the very same hearing,
In my view, a key contribution of this treaty is its provision for a strong verification regime…. which provides a firm basis for monitoring Russia’s compliance with its treaty obligations while also providing important insights into the size and composition of Russian strategic forces.
Most importantly, as Secretary Gates also said, “the verification measures reflect today’s realities.” The United States is no longer engaged in an arms race with Russia. Russia no longer produces vast quantities of nuclear weapons. The United States no longer fears Russian attempts at cheating, and even if it did, it has far more advanced technical capabilities to detect it. Devising elaborate scenarios wherein the Russians could find loopholes in the treaty and exploit them to the serious detriment simply does not reflect any conceivable realities. Besides, even if the Russians did engage in cheating, the United States has the means to detect it and the means to rectify it (the BCC or withdrawal from the treaty).   
No treaty is 100% verifiable, but the verification measures within the Treaty obviously eliminate any possibility that the Russians will be able to cheat in any meaningful manner that could have negative national security implications for the United States. What’s more, they have no incentive to cheat. The Treaty is in their interest as well as ours, and the minute gains they may be able to temporarily receive as a result of cheating would quickly be detected and punished by the United States. With no verification regime today, the United States needs a new verification regime more than ever. The one proposed for New START reflects today’s realities, and is more streamlined, more efficient, and cheaper. In short, New START is a good start.