Jeffrey LewisLugar on START Verification

Now, that was what I was talking about.

Dick Lugar, one of the old bulls of the Senate, has introduced a bill, S.2727, to extend, on a reciprocal basis, the inspections under START for another six months. (More precisely, it extends the necessary privileges and immunities to Russian arms inspection teams.)

The bill itself is good idea because the New START treaty isn’t going to be ratified by December 5, 2009. (The Senate took more than nine months to ratify SORT, and that might as well have been a blank piece of paper.) The bill puts the President in a position to cover the gap between the expiration of START on December 5 and the ratification of a new agreement sometime in the spring.

What is really welcome, however, is Lugar’s floor speech, in which he makes a serious argument about the value of a START Follow-on:

So far, most of the public discussion surrounding a potential successor agreement has focused on further reductions in strategic nuclear weapons. Scant attention has been paid to the verification arrangements for such a follow-on agreement. Informally, we understand that we will yet again be relying on START’s verification regime in the new agreement. For me, this will be the key determinant in assessing whether a follow-on agreement that comes before the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate furthers the national interest. For the moment, we know only the outlines of such an agreement.

I happen to think that is about right — this isn’t a “deep” reductions treaty, though the modest cuts under discussion shouldn’t be particularly controversial.

A couple of weeks ago, I lamented what I saw as a lack of “seriousness” on the part of Republicans when it came to engaging on the issue of START replacement. Well, this speech goes a long way toward remedying that situation.

As I understand it, the main sticking points on verification have been Russian efforts to seek relief from provisions that provide the United States with monitoring of Russia’s primary missile production facility at Votkinsk and prohibit encryption of missile telemetry. Basically because Russia is building new missiles (Topol-M and Bulava) while the United States is not, the monitoring measures burden only Russia.

  • Votkinsk Machine Building Plant is where Russia builds its Topol-M (SS-27) and, for now, Bulava (SS-26) missiles. The United States has the right to portal perimeter monitoring at the plant under START but Russian inspectors have no comparable locale to visit in the United States. (The United States terminated Peacekeeper production, which eliminated Russia’s right to monitor the then-Thiokol Strategic Operations facility in Promontory, Utah.) Moscow wants out of this requirement, since it allows the United States to monitor all of Russia’s new production missiles.
  • Telemetry is a little different. Russia is testing new missiles like the MIRV’d Topol and Bulava, while the United States conducts comparatively boring tests of stockpiled missiles, such as the occasional Minuteman III Glory Trip. The Russian view is shared by some in the Missile Defense Agency, which uses the surplus Minuteman II missiles in missile defense tests — now largely as targets (or at least the rockets configured as the Minotaur II, which I think is treaty-limited). I gather some US officials worry that Russia could use the unencrypted Minuteman II data from missile defense tests to infer things about the capabilities of the interceptors. Apparently, that’s not enough to entice the Russians, who’ve always hated open telemetry as far as I can tell.

At some level, these measures may not be essential to monitoring Russian treaty compliance, but they are welcome forms of transparency. It would be unfortunate to lose them.

The Russians also grouse about the increasing use of so-called Re-entry Vehicle On Site Inspection (RVOSI) to verify something resembling actual warhead loadings (as opposed to verifying numerical attributions that may or may not correspond to actual loadings). This, I suspect, is really a back-door way to address so-called upload capacity of US strategic forces. (While the Russians reduced their forces by eliminating missiles, the United States largely removed warheads resulting in a significant numerical advantage for the United States if we wanted to return to Cold War loadings.) This is also the place where the two parties would establish a foundation for more intrusive warhead monitoring in a subsequent agreement, much as the way the INF pioneered on-site inspection that is so-central to START.

I find the Russian position on Votkinsk and telemetry rather short-sighted. There is, or ought to be, a dictum that, in arms control, the shoe ends up on the other foot. You live to regret the concessions you achieve. After all, it was the United States that spent the 1980’s complaining about Russian advantages in missile “throw-weight” — the same argument Russia makes today about US upload capacity.

The second thing about Lugar’s speech is that he articulated the concept of “effective verification” that asks, even if Moscow cheats, are we better off at the margin?

Some skeptics have pointed out that Russia may not be in total compliance with its obligations under START. Others have expressed opposition to the START Treaty on the basis that no arms control agreement is 100-percent verifiable. But 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.

Testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee on the INF Treaty in 1988, Paul Nitze provided the definition of “effective verification.” He stated:

“What do we mean by effective verification? We mean that we want to be sure that, if the other side moves beyond the limits of the Treaty in any militarily significant way, we would be able to detect such a violation in time to respond effectively and thereby deny the other side the benefit of the violation.”

In a similar vein, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates testified in 1992, when he was Director of Central Intelligence, that the START Treaty was effectively verifiable and that the data it provides would give us the ability to detect militarily-significant cheating.

The Senate has repeatedly expressed confidence in the START I verification procedures. It approved the START I Treaty in 1992, by a vote of 93-6. In 1996, it approved the START II Treaty, which relied on the START I verification regime, by a vote of 87-4. Likewise, the Moscow Treaty was approved by a vote of 95-0.


  1. Georgetown Student

    What I found interesting about this speech was how narrow it was. Luger didn’t address questions of nuclear modernization or appropriate force levels. This bodes well for START II. If the foreign policy leadership of the Republican caucus looks at START from a standpoint that emphasizes inspections, instead of grandstanding about weapon levels, STARTs chances are much higher.

    But, don’t let this one speech raise ones hopes too much, the opposition probably still will use START to attack the president.