New START treaty: An Utter Failure

The State Department has released the newest (September 2015) data on U.S. and Russian strategic weapon inventories disclosed under the New START treaty.

And boy, is the data troubling!

Since the last disclosure (in July 2015, based on March 2015 numbers), Russia has significantly INCREASED its arsenal of deployed strategic nuclear warheads (i.e. ones aimed at the United States) from 1,582 then to 1,648 today, a hike of 66 warheads. Likewise, its fleet of deployed strategic warhead delivery vehicles (i.e. missiles and aircraft carrying those warheads) has grown from 515 then to 526 now. This does not count Russia’s fleet of 151 Tu-22M strategic bombers (not counted under New START) that are capable of carrying 10 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles each.

As Pavel Podvig explains on his blog:

“The increase of 66 deployed warheads and nine launchers is most likely due to the deployment of Bulava missiles on the Alexander Nevskiy submarine that was completed in April 2015. Also, some older missiles were probably withdrawn from service.”

This is because, as I’ve pointed out in numerous publications, including my forthcoming book on nuclear deterrence, Russia is replacing older, single- and four-warhead missiles with new ones carrying up to 10-12 warheads. The Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile carries up to 10 warheads, as do new Russian Yars and Yars-M ICBMs.

By contrast, the US has unilaterally cut its inventory of deployed strategic warheads and launchers. It currently deploys 1,538 strategic warheads (1,597 in March) and 762 delivery systems (785 in March). This means the US is essentially unilaterally disarming itself while Russia is rapidly building up its strategic nuclear arsenal. In other words, the US is slowly committing national suicide.

This also means that the US is strictly complying with the New START treaty and has already gone below the limit of 1,550 warheads authorized by that accord, while Russia is ignoring the pact and is growing up, rather than cutting or even freezing the growth of, its strategic deployed nuclear stockpile. This is consistent with the United States’ record of rigorously complying with arms control treaties and with Russia’s record of systematically violating them.

All of this means that the pro-arms-control community – including the Arms Control Association, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, the Ploughshares Fund, et al., as well as the Obama Administration – were dead wrong when they extolled the New START treaty’s supposed virtues.

They claimed the treaty would keep check on Russia’s nuclear arsenal and even lead to cuts in it while promoting strategic stability and transparency. But the treaty has utterly failed to do so. Instead, it has led to a deep, unilateral cut in America’s nuclear arsenal while allowing Russia to embark on the largest strategic nuclear buildup since the Cold War. It has allowed Russia to significantly increase its strategic nuclear arsenal – and if recent experience is any indication, Russia’s nuclear arsenal will grow in the future still further.

Nor has the treaty led to greater strategic stability and transparency. On the contrary, Russia’s strategic nuclear buildup, coupled with America’s unilateral disarmament, are gravely undermining strategic stability – between the two countries as well as globally. And Russia’s transparency on nuclear matters, especially regarding its strategic missiles, has only declined since New START’s ratification.

Yet, these organizations still falsely claim that New START  is “doing its job”. But what is New START’s “job”? What is the treaty’s purpose?

If it is to make the U.S. cut its strategic nuclear arsenal unilaterally, New START is doing that job superbly.

However, if its purpose is, or was, to reduce or at least freeze the Russian nuclear arsenal and to promote strategic stability and nuclear transparency on Russia’s part, the treaty has utterly failed to fulfill any of these purpose. It is an utter, unqualified failure.

Contrary to the pro-arms-control community’s and the Obama Administration’s claims that the treaty – and nuclear arsenal cuts more broadly – advance US national interests, the contrary is true. New START, and cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent more arsenal, only undermine U.S. national interests and national security by undermining its deterring power while allowing America’s potential adversaries to build up their arsenals – and thus their ability to threaten the U.S. and its allies.

No accord is a better example of this than New START.

Making matters worse, the treaty:

  • Does not count Russia’s 151 Tu-22M strategic bombers as strategic, and therefore doesn’t limit this bomber fleet (and the nuclear weapons deployed on it) at all. Yet, the Tu-22M is clearly a strategic, intercontinental bomber. Even without aerial refueling, it can hit targets on the West Coast if flown from Chukotka. With air refueling, it can hit any targets anywhere in the US (or the world, for that matter).
  • Does not prohibit Russia from developing rail-based ICBMs – which Russia is doing right now.
  • Does not limit Russia’s nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). (The U.S. has no such missiles, only conventional ones. The nuclear-armed ones were withdrawn from service in 2010 by the Obama administration as part of the administration’s unilateral disarmament policy.)
  • Does not at all limit Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal, which is 10 times greater than that of the U.S.

The New START treaty is, by any objective yardstick, an utter failure and a grave threat to U.S. national security.

What The U.S. Government Should Do

Congress should:

  • Fully fund, and where appropriate, increase funding for, U.S. nuclear arsenal modernization – the missiles, the submarines, the bombers, the warheads, and the facilities.
  • Require the USAF to make the Long Range Strike Bomber ready for, and certified for, nuclear missions as soon as the said bomber type enters service.
  • Completely cut off funding for New START implementation until Russia: a) starts significantly reducing its deployed strategic arsenal; and b) resumes compliance with the INF Treaty.
  • Impose the heaviest economic sanctions possible on Russia if it doesn’t comply with the above, and if it still doesn’t comply, permanently prohibit implementation of the New START treaty.

The Executive Branch should:

  • Impose the heaviest economic sanctions possible on Russia if it doesn’t comply with the above, and if it still doesn’t comply, abrogate the New START and INF Treaties.
  • If Russia does comply, renegotiate new START si that it will cover Russia’s 151 Tu-22M bombers, limit nuclear-tipped SLCMs, prohibit the deployment of multiple warheads on ICBMs, and prohibit the development of rail-based ICBMs. Counting the Tu-22M bombers would increase the number of deployed strategic Russian delivery systems from 526 to 787, and the total number of delivery systems from 890 to 1,041, requiring Russia to dismantle 241 such systems (e.g. all Tu-22Ms and a further 90 delivery systems).



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