United States Institute of Peace Event: New START Verification

Jul 27, 2010

By Oliver Bloom


In the wake of recent debate regarding the verification measures in New START, the United States Institute of Peace held a panel discussion with Rose Gottemoeller on the verification measures in the New START Agreement. Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation was joined by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, Amy Woolf, Specialist in National Defense in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service, and moderator Col. Paul Hughes, USA (Ret.), senior program officer with the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute of Peace. Rose Gottemoeller, Amy Woolf and Greg Thielmann each offered their thoughts on the verification measures in New START before opening the floor to a lively and engaging series of questions from the audience.
Rose Gottemoeller spoke first, describing the Senate ratification process and expanded on certain elements of the treaty, before diving headlong into the nuances of the verification regime. She noted the thoroughness of the Senate’s review so far; by the end of this week, the Senate will have held seventeen hearing before three committees on the New START agreement. In describing particulars of the New START agreement, Gottemoeller suggested that it tried to balance the flexibility of SORT with the predictability of START, and tried to draw on the lessons of both agreements, improve on weaknesses, remove expensive and/or inefficient non-essentials and create a strong and effective verification regime tailored to the specific tenants of the treaty. For example, she pointed out how the Treaty’s separate counting of launchers from delivery systems facilitated easier maintenance because it would allow the United States to no longer count delivery systems taken offline for extended maintenance. In describing the shift in specific obligations and prohibitions from START, Gottemoeller explained how the goal in New START was flexibility in force structure that would give the United States more freedom with regard to the triad as overall numbers went down. She noted that the changes in the inspection regime allowed for effective verification while lowering cost and resulting in fewer disruptions to base operations. She argued that the simplified inspection regime not only increased the average inspections per base, but cut down on inefficiency and temporary base closures. 
Gottemoeller sketched out the new elements of verification in New START, especially the unique identifiers on delivery systems, the reentry vehicle verification and the warhead counting/verification. Most importantly, she stressed how new START’s different approach to counting warheads (specific counting rather than maximum attribution) gave the United States more flexibility because of U.S. warhead downloading of the Trident and Minutemen missiles. Gottemoeller explained the role of telemetry in New START, no longer needed to verify any treaty provisions (due to the new counting rule and the lack of throwweight provisions), added in the treaty as a transparency and confidence-building measure. Finally, Gottemoeller drew the audience’s attention to what she argued was an underappreciated part of the Treaty (Article 8) that facilitates a spirit of transparency, predictability and confidence between the two parties. In closing, she stressed how while there were changes in the New START verification regime, the Treaty was nevertheless a continuation of previous treaty frameworks and was in the best national security interest of the United States.
Amy Woolf, as an employee of the CRS, took a nonpartisan approach to her comments, but nevertheless offered extremely insightful remarks on how to judge the verification regime in New START. She stressed how New START, as a different treaty with different provisions, should be evaluated independently, rather than compared directly with START (even though everyone has been directly comparing the two). She then noted three essential facts in approaching New START. First, that the monitoring and verification regimes are different than in START, but that they should be different, because times and treaty provisions have changed. Second, that knowing of a difference was not enough to evaluate verifiability. And finally, that difference by itself was neither good nor bad, but needed to be evaluated with context. 
After making these points, Woolf addressed how certain changes in the verification regime and context could show that many of the changes were in the United States’ interest. For example, she reiterated Rose Gottemoeller’s point that the changes in the counting rules were better for the United States than for Russia because maximum counting would handicap the United States due to Trident and Minutemen downloading. On the exchange of telemetry, Woolf explained that the U.S. intelligence community was actually somewhat uncomfortable with a continued mandated exchanged of telemetry because it would force the United States to give up information on missile defense tests when ICBMs or SLBMs were used as targets. On the fewer restrictions on mobile ICBMs, Woolf explained that these changes reflected the fact that only the Russians now have mobile ICBMs and also that the United States had changed concerns about Russian mobile ICBMs. Specifically, Woolf argued that in the 1980s, the United States was worried about the Soviets building and hiding large numbers of mobile ICBMs, but the combination of a changed environment, a reduced military advantage and a better understanding of Russian mobile ICBM production and operations reduced the need for excessively complex mobile ICBM verification.  Amy Woolf finished by arguing against the idea that any change in verification is bad for the United States and a concession to the Russians, and instead stressed the need to evaluate context when analyzing the new verification measures. 
Greg Thielmann spoke last, and after expressing his agreement with the remarks of Gottemoeller and Woolf, offered four points of his own. First, he argued that New START is verifiable, allowing the United States to detect militarily significant cheating and remedy such cheating in time. Second, he argued that the Treaty has a good enough verification regime to advance through the Senate. He also added that discussions of a numeric balance in opinions on the treaty (of the kind that Senator Inhofe called for in Roll Call last week) failed to appreciate the lop-sided nature of expert opinion in favor of the Treaty. Third, Thielmann argued that many of the critiques of the verification regime are irrelevant at best and willful ignorance at worst. He argued that critics are demanding standards of perfection never previously required, including verification standards that the United States would never itself be willing to accept. What’s more, he argued that not only are comparisons unfair because of the different provisions of the treaties, but they are also irrelevant because the choice is not between START and New START, but between New START and no treaty and no verification. Fourth and finally, Thielmann argued that delay in Senate ratification is a dangerous national security issue because each lost day means another day without on-the-ground verification that not only jeopardized U.S. understanding of Russian forces, but also threatened the U.S.’s international credibility on nuclear issues. What’s more, ratification would not mean a continuation of inspections, but rather a resumption of inspections (a point he felt was underappreciated). 
The panel then opened for a great series of questions that shed light on a whole series of elements related to the Treaty. When asked what the results of a treaty rejection would mean, Gottemoeller drew attention to her Senate testimony, but stressed that it would be impossible to make progress on non-strategic weapons, and that the benefits from the verification regime would vanish, and the United States would have to rely entirely on national technical means (NTM) to evaluate Russia’s strategic forces. Thielmann drew the audience’s attention to General Chilton’s testimony that the United States would rapidly, and exponentially, lose insight into Russia’s strategic forces. What’s more, Thielmann argued that rejection would severely hurt U.S. credibility and that the Administration would have serious problems negotiating on any other international agreement. 
When asked about the negotiating record, Gottemoeller stressed that the negotiators have always been completely upfront regarding the treaty. She reiterated the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s comment following the release of the INF Treaty negotiating record that a standard practice of release would have a chilling effect on diplomacy. She also praised the previous administration’s ability to get ninety agreements passed through the Senate without releasing the negotiating record.
Questioned on the treaty what would follow New START, Gottemoeller thought President Obama had laid out a clear path back in April 2009, which would next address non-strategic and non-deployed weapons. She explained how the new reentry vehicle inspections and modified counting rules were necessary building blocks for the future agreement, and would give the United States experience and insight into the technicalities of verification for future treaties.
Asked about what skeptics of the Treaty may require to vote for ratification, Gottemoeller commented that she thought the most important issue would be the budget for nuclear infrastructure and weapons modernization. She thought the testimony of NNSA Director Tom D’Agostino was most helpful and convincing in this respect. 
Lastly, Gottemoeller answered a question on the Russian ratification of the Treaty and explained that she felt both Presidents Obama and Medvedev had done a good job coordinating ratification and facilitating communication between the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma. Rose Gottemoeller then had to leave the event, but Amy Woolf and Greg Thielmann continued to answer questions from the audience. 
Asked about their respective nightmare scenarios from Treaty ratification, Amy Woolf reiterated her firm belief in the importance of the Senate’s prerogative to ask questions and analyze the treaty, but she was afraid that discussions could get bogged down in non-issues that could spell trouble for future negotiations. Thielmann felt that besides rejection, he was worried that the Senate may attach unilateral statements to the treaty that could weaken faith in, and effectiveness of, the Treaty. 
On the schedule for ratification of the Treaty in relation to the Congressional schedule, Amy Woolf explained the desire by supporters to have the Foreign Relations Committee to vote on the treaty before the August recess and then a full Senate vote before the election. Woolf expressed some doubts about this schedule, noting the Senate’s very busy fall calendar and that a quick Senate vote would require a great willingness by leadership to move forward. 
Asked about the viability of U.S. NTM (in response to the Heritage Foundation’s description of U.S. NTM as “broken”), Greg Thielmann pointed out the necessity of one the ground inspections and their interplay with NTM, but explained that NTM were constantly changing and that many of the limits of NTM from twenty years ago were no longer applied. Without commenting on specific U.S. NTM, Thielmann certainly expressed confidence in the combination of inspections and NTM and other verification measures to adequately enforce the Treaty.
An audience member then asked the panelists an interesting question about whether the next treaty would continue to be bilateral in nature or move towards multilateralism. Amy Woolf imagined that the next treaty would still be bilateral, because even if it made large cuts to around 1,000 warheads each, that would still be well above the levels of China, France and Britain. She did imagine there would be a role for the other P5 in transparency, monitoring and verification. She thought it would be more important to deal with the lack of Russian interest in another treaty, the lack of trade space on non-strategic weapons, rather than multilateralism and so the next treaty may focus more on interim measures to maintain transparency and predictability. Greg Thielmann agreed that 1,000 warheads would still be too high for a multilateral approach, and also thought reiterated a feeling that it is and would be difficult to engage China on strategic issues. Paul Hughes added that China would have a big role in future reductions, especially due to Russian concerns about Chinese future capabilities (part of the Russian reason for TNW). In any future treaty, he thought it was essential for the United States to take into account the Russian view of the rest of the world, especially their view of China.
The next question concerned the history of military significant violations by the Russians and Russian and Soviet compliance with previous treaties. Amy Woolf explained the evolution of U.S. thinking on treaty compliance (from effective to adequate to militarily and politically significant). She explained that there are essentially three times of violations: to undermine for military gains, grey areas, and incidental mistakes. She felt that the response to violations should depend on the source and reason for the violations. For military significant violations, she felt it was easy for the United States to respond because it could easily upload its missiles. For the other types of violations, she felt the Treaty offered the Bilateral Consultative Commission as a means to address concerns. Ultimately, she felt it would be a political decision whether the latter two types of violations were sufficient to undercut confidence in the treaty and result in U.S. withdrawal. 
The final two questions from audience concerned the relatively lack of discussion on first strike stability in New START and the role of ballistic missile defense in future treaties. On the first, Amy Woolf explained that first strike stability was less of an issue in New START because the Treaty leaves ample room for the United States to maintain a triad, and thus does not need to worry about a Russian first strike. On whether a new heavy Russian MIRVed missile would be destabilizing, she reminded the audience that concerns about first strike stability and MIRV missiles require such missiles to be fixed, vulnerable and lucrative targets. While the new Russian RS-24 could be a heavy MIRVed missile, it would not be fixed, and thus, would not upset strategic stability. On BMD, Woolf suggested that the parties have time to work on the issue because U.S. BMD will only seriously affect Russian capabilities in five to ten years when the phased adaptive approach has capabilities against ICBMs. Until then, she thought cooperation with the Russians could promote understanding between the parties. Thielmann added that because New START leaves a green light for U.S. BMD plans, there was time to promote understanding and figure out cooperation to help with a future treaty. 
As one can see, the panelists offered a very detailed and comprehensive analysis of New START’s verification regime and offered new and constructive ways of analyzing the Treaty and its differences from START, as well as offering thoughts on where arms control will go in the future. Our hats should be off to the U.S. Institute of Peace for organizing such an engaging panel of experts on the extremely topical issue of verification.