Jeffrey LewisLugar on START at SW21

I’ve been quiet about the START negotiations, save for the occasional tweet, in large part because it doesn’t make sense to second-guess negotiators, especially before they’ve completed their work. (Buy me a beer, on the other hand …)

But Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) made some remarks at the recent Strategic Weapons in the 21st Century (SW21) conference that have my attention — and I think they should have yours, too.

At this point, it is no secret that the new treaty is more like a SORT Plus, or if you want to be difficult, START Minus. The Russians went in with a goal of gutting the verification regime and, since that is also accomplished with the expiration of START, the Administration didn’t have too much leverage to stop them.

We know the START mobile missile monitoring regime has been, er, streamlined with the elimination of Portal-Perimeter Continuous Monitoring (PPCM) at Votkinsk. (If you are interested in how the START regime monitored mobile missiles — which comprised an integrated system of obligations — I recommend either Kerry Kartchner’s Negotiating START or Jill Jermano’s and Susan Springer’s Monitoring Road-Mobile Missiles Under START: Lessons from the Gulf War.)

And it is no secret that the last remaining issue is the encryption of telemetry data from missile tests— START prohibited parties from encrypting telemetry as part of the verification regime for throw-weight limits. The Russians want to resume encrypting telemetry, citing the development of US missile defenses and the lack of a limit on throw-weight to verify. (Or, at least, to get comparable data from the US on missile defenses.) If you want to know more, I recommend recent stories by Josh Rogin, Rocket data dispute still unresolved in U.S.-Russia nuke talks and Elaine Grossman, Talks Hit ‘Sweet Spot’ for Landing New START Agreement, U.S. Official Says, or commentary from John Warden and Kingston Rief.

After the Jones/Mullen visit to Moscow and the Obama-Medvedev phone call, it looks like the parties will split the baby, as it were — probably with a limited exchange of telemetry data, if I had to guess. And I hate to guess.

In light of these two issues — monitoring mobile missiles and telemetry — I draw your attention to Senator Lugar’s remarks at the SW21 conference, in which he described himself as “look[ing] forward to a successor to the START treaty” and outlined his thinking on what the Senate might, and might not, consent to ratify.

This is a shot across the bow. Like most Lugar statements, it is precise, civil and free from partisan hyperbole — but that doesn’t diminish the whiff of grapeshot:

Nowhere has the value of strong verification procedures been more clearly demonstrated than the START I Treaty. Whatever is devised to replace it, must be effectively verifiable. START I, together with the Nunn-Lugar program, have served as the means for a dramatically changed relationship with Russia. In fact, recalling the testimony of Ambassador Lehman before the Foreign Relations Committee in 1992 on the START I Treaty, it was clear that a primary goal of the nearly decade-long negotiations on the START I Treaty was to open Soviet society via the treaty. As time has progressed, some have asked whether START I’s “burdensome” verification provisions are necessary given the changed world in which we live. I believe that weakening verification procedures comes with great risks, not merely because the other side may cut corners, but because our relationship with Russia benefits from the mutual confidence and interaction inherent in such procedures.

I have been a strong advocate for extending START I verification procedures. Unfortunately, a choice was made to informally act in the spirit of the treaty after its expiration on December 5, 2009, rather than to extend it by formal agreement. I am hopeful that a successor for START I will be successfully concluded in the coming months and that it will contain strong verification procedures.

The successor to START likely will be considered in the Senate at the same time that we consider the new Nuclear Posture Review and plans for modernization of our nuclear deterrent. START I was submitted at a time when the United States had an active modernization program with specific elements. Today’s stockpile stewardship program lacks this specificity and encompasses many different aspects of the weapons complex.

In 1992, we did not have the record we have today regarding access to Russian sites that produce missiles. We also did not have the telemetric data on Russian missiles provided under START I. Thus, some observers assess the impact of losing START’s verification measures to be minimal. They claim Russia will not field many new missiles in the next ten years and that we have data on all the missiles they are likely to field. However, the rate at which our knowledge erodes is directly related to the rate at which Russia fields new missiles for which we lack data or it modifies existing missiles. Verification of missile capabilities, particularly mobile missiles, depends on both how good our inspection regime is and the extent to which other data provided under the treaty informs the inspection process. Even if inspections are perfect, they will only tell us where a missile is at any given time and the number of warheads it is carrying, not what its capabilities might be.

It may be the case that for the next ten years our existing knowledge, based on what we have learned through the START regime and the Nunn-Lugar program, will provide us with sufficient confidence in making assessments of Russian missile capability. But that confidence will diminish with time. As a matter of national priority, we must maintain an ability to judge with high confidence the capabilities Russia pursues. If we cannot do so, then any attempt to negotiate additional treaties with Russia could founder, to say nothing of efforts for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Verification issues will play an important role in Senate consideration of a new treaty to replace START I. Then CIA Director Bob Gates stated before the Foreign Relations Committee in hearings on START in 1992, “the verifiability of this treaty has always been seen, by supporters and opponents alike, as the key to the Senate consent process.” Such comments equally apply to the treaty that will replace START I.

I suspect Lugar’s statement is a signal of possible trouble for the START Follow-on in the Senate — the President is asking Republicans to hand him a foreign policy victory.

The Administration is going to have to do better than arguing that the verification regime is better than nothing, that the gaps in verification don’t matter or that they’ll fix it in the next treaty. That’s going to mean committing to spend more money on US verification capabilities — note that in another portion of his speech, Lugar proposed “a new verification initiative that devotes substantially more resources to the problem” — and explaining that the Administration set, and stuck to, red-lines that result in an effectively verifiable treaty.


  1. anon (History)

    “The Administration is going to have to do better than arguing that the verification regime is better than nothing”

    The Administration is going to have to argue that the verification regime in new START meets the standard of “effective verification” when judged against the limts and restrictions in new START. We shouldn’t judge the regime in comparison with a regime in another treaty, we should judge it in relation to the limits in the treaty it is attached to. There is nothing in new START that requires telemetry for high confidence in verification. That’s because the limits are meager, when compared to START, and because our starting data base is pretty good (although, as Lugar says, it will degrade.)

    Of course, I know this is already a losing argument. For many of the Treaty critics, the only thing that will matter is new START has fewer inspections than old START. And many of the Treaty supporters think the way to counter it is with the point that it has more inspections than SORT. SORT didn’t need inspections because there was nothing to count and verify. START needed more inspections because we started with less knowledge and limited more stuff.

    So, are the inspections in new START, and the telemetry exchanges in new START, sufficient to ensure that we will have the confidence in Russia’s compliance with the provisions in new START throughout the life of the treaty? There’s a second question that will be asked, too. Even if we have uncertainties, and some degradation of confidence over time, will the treaty continue to, on balance, serve U.S. national security interests. In other words, none of this matters if the Administration can’t come up with a cogent argument that new START serves U.S. national security interests. And “reset” is not enough.

    We will never get the right answer if we don’t ask the right question…..

  2. MK (History)

    It is very hard to secure 67 votes in the Senate for a treaty during a highly partisan era. It is easy to “lay down a marker” demanding that the President do such and so before completing negotiations for a treaty that will face a gauntlet of criticism in the Senate.

    The monitoring provisions for the START follow-on treaty won’t be as intrusive as for START I. This is a given. For the Senate to say to the President “send it back and do better” is to ensure that there will not be cooperative monitoring for strategic force reductions for as long as it takes to “do better.” This could be a very long time. And this could have a perversely negative effect on the Nunn-Lugar and related programs.

  3. Muskrat

    I agree that for political reasons, negotiating a treaty that is “unverifiable” is probably asking for a black eye form the Senate. But negotiating one that IS verifiable is probably impossible.

    That’s why I would suggest not negotiating any such treaty, instead of trying to get one with the right “red lines” in it.

    If we try the latter, we’ll fail. What does Russia care if there is no follow-on? What is the US going to do, upload the D-5 with more warheads? Russia doesn’t need an agreement to monitor our forces, or to limit them. Our openness and common sense fulfill those functions for them. The benefits to Russia from a new agreement are marginal, and therefore their willingness to grant concessions to us to get it will also be marginal. If the Senate forces the US to “go back to the negotiating table,” they’re going to have a long, lonely wait in Geneva. Powerful military and industrial interests in Russia will fight very very hard against going back to the old regime.

    That’s why the next treaty shouldn’t have any numerical limits in it at all. It should be about whatever CBMs/mutual monitoring techniques the sides can agree to. That might be de-alerting, vestiges of START verification, new transparency measures, or inclusion of defensive forces under the umbrell…. uh, Aeg …. —- uh, rubric of “strategic arms.” Things that change the ecology of the strategic environment, not the size of it. Who cares about numbers? If we’re bothered, we can increase ours over the course of months or years — and in any case our SLBMs are secure for a generation to come.

    We all agree accident or mistake or the real threats, right? So work on them, make some more unilateral (but perhaps reversible) cuts, and forget refighting the battles of the ’70s and ’80s — whether honestly (Sen. Lugar) or not (most of the rest of the GOP) or simply as an excuse to demand higher intel budgets.

  4. Eugene Miasnikov (History)

    The Russians went in with a goal of gutting the verification regime and, since that is also accomplished with the expiration of START, the Administration didn’t have too much leverage to stop them.

    Jeffrey, if you blame the Russian side for gutting the verification regime, you’ll also have to blame the U.S. side for undermining the sense of nuclear reductions. I can not agree with you, that the U.S. administration did not have a leverage. If they agreed to make significant concessions on reducing delivery systems, the Russians might have agreed with telemetry and continuous monitoring. One can not kill two birds with one stone – if you change counting rules for warheads and launchers – you should expect that verification rules will also be changed.

  5. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    I actually agree with you.

    Unfortunately, the politics of reductions prior to completing a Nuclear Posture Review are difficult, even if posture reviews are a joke. And US and Russians strategic forces are so asymmetric now, I think arms control will be very difficult.

  6. Scott Monje (History)

    Just why is it that we can’t exchange telemetry data on missile defense for telemetry data on new Russian missiles?

  7. Chuck Thornton


    You know that there’s no one I respect more than Senator Lugar, and there’s no bigger fan of START I and Nunn-Lugar than me.

    I agree with the senator’s description of START I’s value, and with his historical perspective of the information and benefits derived from START I’s implementation.

    But, I am not comfortable with Senator Lugar’s comparisons of 1992 to 2010. Nor am I comfortable with your comparisons of the new treaty to START I and SORT.

    Of course, the new treaty is not being negotiated in a vacuum. Both governments have learned from past experiences, and will obviously be influenced both by evolutions in the bilateral security relationship and the broader international security environment.

    It seems to me that continual comparisons to START I, and repeated lamenting over “what’s being lost” from a treaty that was negotiated in the 1980s, will only serve to perpetuate historical patterns of attitudes and behaviors. I would rather see a new style of treaty, for a new era —- a treaty that is judged on its own merits and judged in the context of a desired future “normal” relationship.

  8. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    Verification with arms control is like Constitutional rights with respect to the police. There’s no mystery as to why we need these checks and balances. They force both sides to focus effort where it matters, and not in politics. Getting a verification regime is political, no doubt. That the Russians almost always seem to come at arms control agreements with a minimal appreciation for verification makes me think that they come to the table with a different agenda. More along the lines of Arms Control is a process to limit the other guy’s arms. There are the same minds on our side as well, I’m no fool, but it seems as if the verification regime is always an American thing.

    Why not share ABM data with the Russians? I think the people less enamored with the idea of a world without nuclear arms might say something along the lines of this. If you give the Russians ABM telemetry they’ll sell it or give it their client states such as Iran to assist them in making countermeasures. This will happen. The question is to what degree would the telemetry really compromise an ABM system? Also how would that loss balance in with any gains in security to be had with the new arms control regime?