Addressing arms control

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Linton Brooks details the newest weapons treaty between the U.S. and Russia

By Carol A. Clark

The nation’s leading authority on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) spent Tuesday evening discussing the program’s past, present and future.


Brooks’ talk, “A New START and Beyond” comes on the heels of a new nuclear arms reduction treaty signed earlier this month by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Called “New START,” the new treaty replaces the original START, which since 1991 has served as a major pact between the two nuclear superpowers.

Brooks smiled as he looked out over the audience filled primarily with area scientists including members of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security, which sponsored the talk at the new Holiday Inn Express.

“I’m happy to be here because local organizations that try to think seriously about nuclear issues are particularly important as we face a series of important nuclear decisions in the next few years,” he said.

Brooks touched on how the U.S. got to the arms control legacy that the Obama Administration inherited, what the New START really does, the issues New START raises and the prospects for ratification by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma and lastly what the next steps in strategic arms control might be when and if New START enters into force.

“I want to take you back to the Cold War,” Brooks said. “That world is different from today in three significant ways. First, there was a deep lack of trust between the two superpowers… Second, there was a decades-long strategic competition, sometimes called the arms race … Finally, there was a strong belief that the weapons might actually be used. Many of us assumed that war – including nuclear war – was possible in our lifetime.”

Because of this, the U.S. sought to employ arms control to improve its security, he said.

The previous objectives of Cold War arms control no longer exist today – to provide predictability and avoid an arms race cycle where each side builds new systems in anticipation of similar moves by the other, to reduce incentives to preempt in times of crisis and to save money by capping expenditures on new systems.

“None of these objectives is valid today. With no new strategic systems in development in the United States and with Russian modernization proceeding at a very slow rate, there is no arms race to cap and thus no savings to be gained,” Brooks said. “While improving stability in a crisis is still theoretically valid, economic conditions in Russia preclude massive restructuring no matter what arms control agreements say.”

Also, the dangers from the antiquated Russian warning system outweigh any pressures caused by force structure, he said, and in recognizing these facts, the U.S. and Russia agreed at the start of the current negotiations that it would each be free to structure its forces as it saw fit.

The New START Treaty replaces the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, which limited both sides to 2,200 warheads but had no verification provisions.

The New START cuts deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each party to no more than 1,550 and sets limits on numbers of deployed missiles, launchers and warheads.

The treaty has a verification regime that includes on-site inspections and data exchanges. There are 10 “Type 1” inspections to check the number of warheads on a particular missile, Brooks said. In addition, if a submarine has empty tubes, the inspection also will verify that a single tube is empty. There are eight “Type 2” inspections that will verify data on non-deployed systems or confirm that facilities eliminated do not contain treaty-limited items.

Some other aspects of the new treaty include;

• Each side has seven years to reach the new levels and the treaty lasts for 10 years unless replaced earlier;

• there are essentially no restrictions on ballistic missile defense; and

• traditional cooperation with the United Kingdom will continue.

“Several issues have been raised about the new treaty,” Brooks said. “Critics on both the left and right note that the reductions are quite modest. The administration has said the reduction of warheads is 30 percent from the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, but because of the different way bombers are counted, this could overstate the cuts – indeed, there is a plausible case that there might be no reduction at all.”

Brooks expects the senate will give its advice and consent to ratify the New START Treaty by a large majority.

“I am less certain on timing,” he said. “The administration would like to see approval before August but I think a vote in the lame-duck session following the election is more likely.”

Once the START follow-on treaty is in force, Brooks said the administration can move toward the treaty it really wants, adding that the Nuclear Posture Review says the next step will be to propose new negotiations with the Russians to cover all warheads, including tactical and non-deployed.

For information about the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security, contact Dave Thomson at 662-5409 or visit www.lacacis.org.