Jeffrey LewisFrickin' Extend START Already

Jonathan Landay pens a great story about the internal debate between Administration officials seeking a looser START inspections regime and intelligence agencies who kinda like the data they get:

Alarmed by the stress on the limited fleet of U.S. spy satellites, however, U.S. intelligence agencies oppose weakening the on-site inspections and other means that give U.S. officials a window into the only nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the United States.

The intelligence agencies have outlined their concerns in classified reports that were delivered to Congress last week, said an expert who asked to remain anonymous because the matter is classified.

(For more, see his December 2004 story on the subject.)

That’s in contrast, of course, to remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter to Reuters’ Carol Giacomo that the Bush Administration plans to replace START with a less formal agreement that eliminates strict verification requirements and weapons limits …

While the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or START “has been important and for the most part has done its job,” … DeSutter told Reuters the pact is cumbersome and its complicated reporting standards have outlived their usefulness.

In the post-Cold war era, many provisions of the 1991 START accord, which mandated deep nuclear weapons cuts, “are no longer necessary. We don’t believe we’re in a place where we need have to have the detailed lists (of weapons) and verification measures,” added DeSutter …

No, Paula. Cumbersome and complicated would be collecting the data necessary to verify your precious Moscow Treaty without the verification provisions in START. Back when her Bureau cared about such things, they put out handy fact sheets that described the verification provisions of START, including:

  • National Technical Means (NTM) START contains explicit provisions prohibiting interference with National Technical Means of (NTM) verification (satellites), or use of concealment measures that impede verification by NTM.
  • Telemetry START largely prohibits the use of encrypted telemetry during missile flight tests, with certain limited exceptions.
  • Data Exchange and Notifications START requires the parties to provide regular notification and data updates on numbers, locations, and the technical characteristics of START-accountable weapons systems.
  • Cooperative Measures Either party may request the other to display in the open road-mobile launchers, rail mobile launchers and heavy bombers at bases specified by the inspecting Party.
  • Continuous Monitoring Activities START establishes continuous monitoring at the perimeter and portals of each side’s mobile ICBM assembly facilities.

(If you want more, the OTA report, Verification Technologies: Measures for Monitoring Compliance With the START Treaty, is fabulous.)

Of course, one could always suggest small modifications, including reducing the number of inspections or simplifying dismantlement protocols in light of Nunn-Lugar and other cooperative threat reduction programs. Edward Ifft—who was a senior negotiator for START—got off the best line at a recent Arms Control Association meeting, admitting that the Administration’s claim that the verification provisions are burdensome has some merit. “As an aside,” Ifft added, “I thought that was the case even when we were negotiating the treaty…”

His talk at ACA, plus his excellent op-ed with Jennifer Mackby, are the place to, well, start on extending START.

I tend to favor a straight-forward extension like that proposed by Ellen Tauscher and others to give the next Administration the opportunity to negotiate a follow-on legal agreement that would preserve most of the transparency and verification provisions. But I’d be eager to hear what you all think.


  1. CKR (History)

    A straightforward extension is the quickest and easiest course for now, with, as you say, an opening for a follow-on agreement.

    It remains a mystery to me that the Bushies can’t see that treaties on verification allow us to see what the other guy is doing, too.

    Could the Senate extend START without concurrence of the arms-control-impaired administration?

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    If I had to guess, I would suspect the issue is that the Russians are insisting on a legally binding agreement and may want some other concessions.

  3. abcd (History)

    Eh, I have to disagree with you. The best line, again from Ifft, was when he said:

    “Could I just make an arms-control point here? If you think about it, the Americans are trying to build a system to counter an Iranian ICBM which does not exist. The Russians are developing systems to penetrate a U.S. ABM system which does not exist. There’s a certain parallel there. The point is that this is one of the great virtues of legally binding arms control agreements is that people then do not have to make worst-case assumptions about what the world will look like ten or fifteen years in the future.”

  4. J (History)

    There was considerable discussion of this issue today at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Russian relations.

  5. Miles Pomper (History)

    CKR,I’m not a lawyer. But as a former congressional reporter, I’m pretty sure that Congress can’t approve any treaties or extensions of treaties that have not been submitted by the President.

  6. James (History)

    A couple of points:

    1) CKR and Miles – a different administration will be in power when the expiration date of START comes up on December 5, 2009 (courtesy of your friends at DTRA: So, this won’t be Bush’s call.

    Under Article XVII, Subsection 2, the parties were supposed to meet one year out from the expiration date, but there’s nothing mandating when the decision to extend has to take place.

    2) Jeffrey – I’m confused about your statement: “Cumbersome and complicated would be collecting the data necessary to verify your precious Moscow Treaty without the verification provisions in START.”

    As you stated on this blog previously, “The Moscow Treaty contains no verification provisions.” (

    Its important to refer to the START verification measures as a “foundation” for building transparency with the Russians, rather than some mandated requirement of the Treaty.

    The “Annual Report on Implementation of the Moscow Treaty” said as much in 2005: “The Administration made clear to the Senate, both during ratification hearings on the Moscow Treaty and in written submissions, that the Moscow Treaty does not require a verification regime. The Administration judges that U.S. national intelligence capabilities and knowledge gained from implementing the START Treaty and other agreements will provide the foundation for providing transparency into Russia’s implementation of its reductions. Moreover, the strategic relationship between the United States and Russia is expected to result in increasing openness over the lifetime of the Moscow Treaty.” (

    If there was a flaw in the Moscow Treaty, it wasn’t a reliance on START verification measures, but rather the overly optimistic view of Putin’s Russia becoming a transparent friend or ally over time. Ironically, for all the arms controllers out there, an adversarial relationship with Russia is probably the most sure fire way to get a future START Treaty since such agreements are the byproduct of countries that don’t trust one another.

  7. SpacemanAfrica

    Pres signs, congress ratifies.

    ”…the Americans are trying to build a system to counter an Iranian ICBM which does not exist.The Russians are developing systems to penetrate a U.S. ABM system which does not exist. There’s a certain parallel there.”

    Just thought it needed to be said again. I had always leaned towards the idea that the Cold War didn’t end in ‘91. Missiles in Kaliningrad and all that. After 9/11 I had hope when Bush called Putin first but, then came the abrogations and the development on both sides. Cold War at a simmer.

  8. Doug Shaw (History)

    Remember when people like Amy Sands had leadership responsibility for verificaiton and wrote things like “although the advance of technology may play a marginal role in facilitating the spread of nuclear weapons, it may become a major component of efforts to prevent, contain, and respond to such a spread? (Reiss & Litwak, eds., 1994, p. 266)?

    Why does it take near collapse of on-site inspection to get the IC’s attention? Why aren’t they lobbying every day for more intrusive inspections with more partners to keep pace with the technical and political developments of the last fifteen years?

    Somebody should show some frickin’ leadership.

  9. Amyfw (History)

    A few random thoughts (I’m home in summer mode this week) that may or may not contribute to this conversation:

    First, the Moscow Treaty does not require a verification regime because there is nothing to verify. The countries meet the Treaty’s reductions simply by declaring they have done so. Verifying that they have done so would mean verifying existant numbers of deployed missiles and the warheads they carry, but there is nothing in the Treaty requiring a specific number of missiles or warheads per missile. We simply declare we are at 2,200, and we are done.

    Second, you don’t verify the Treaty, you verify compliance with the Treaty, and you do that by monitoring forces and activities, then determining whether they are consistent with what you would expect if the nation were compliant (that’s a political jugdement). The issue here, with losing START, is the not the ability to verify compliance with the Moscow Treaty, but with the ability to monitor Russian forces and activities. We CAN do that without cooperative monitoring measures, but we have gotten used to using cooperative monitoring measures since INF, and the intel communitcy is saying it would be costly and complicated to go bact to pure NTM. We’d need to do that with or without the Moscow Treaty, just to keep up with their forces, IF we cared about keeping up with their forces. So that’s the key political judgement. Do we care what Russia is doing with the size and shape of its forces? The Intel community does, that’s its job. The political community (in this Admin) does not, a point that was made clear when either Rumsfeld or Powell (can’t recall which) said, during the ratification hearings, that we would not care if Russia cheated on the Moscow Treaty. We don’t care what they deploy anymore.

  10. CKR (History)

    James, treaties, even extensions, have to be negotiated, and that takes time, even for the simplest things. More time when one side is behaving bizarrely, or both sides.

    So the negotiations have to begin well ahead of the expiration date of the treaty.

    It’s true that another administration will be in then. But it will be very late in the process. We can hope that the next president recognizes the value of the point made by Ed Ifft and abcd and puts START extension at the top of the agenda.

    Or we can hope for a miraculous illumination of the current president by the spirit of the Blessed Reagan.

  11. Daryl Kimball (History)

    Jeff and others:

    Glad you and others are jumping on the START bandwagon, but there were a couple of points that we were trying to get across at our June 11 press conference with Ed Ifft, Ellen Tauscher and others that have been overlooked:

    1. START could be extended under Article 17 of the treaty (see for five years (or more) without getting formal Senate approval, but neither the Bush or Putin teams want to extend it in its current form. Wade Boese has reported on the respective U.S. and Russian positions in ACT back in April and these positions hold true today. See

    2. What should be done? Not only is it important to maintain key verification-related tools contained in START, but it is important that the two sides also reach agreement on further deeper limits on warheads and delivery systems. I outline the arguments for this approach in a column in the June issue of ACT. See
    – Daryl Kimball