START Follow-on Agreement Negotiations: Rhetoric and Reality - Kapil Patil
Follow-on Agreement Negotiations: Rhetoric and Reality
In an extraordinary spirit that indicated a break from cold war thinking, US President barrack Obama in his Prague speech expressed his commitment to make the world free of nuclear weapons. He stated that, “to put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same” . As a part of this process President Obama and his Russian counterpart Demitri Medevdev, in their meeting vowed to pursue new and verifiable reductions in their strategic offensive arsenals in a step-by-step process, with a new, legally-binding treaty. This new treaty would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is due to expire on Dec. 5 this year. During the bilateral summit in Moscow on July 6, both leaders signed a framework deal that will reduce nuclear warheads and delivery systems from the current treaty limitations. Both sides agreed on new limits of 500 to 1,100 carriers of strategic arms and 1,500 to 1,675 warheads while current limits allow a maximum of 2,200 warheads and 1,600 launch vehicles . Within these new parameters the dialogues are being conducted to achieve final agreement that will be part of the new treaty. This piece critically examines the basic parameters of START - follow on agreement that would shape the final outcome of the treaty and in larger context the future of arms control in 21st century.
After six months and six rounds of negotiations, the two governments remain divided on key issue of reductions in delivery vehicles and warheads. Though both parties are committed to conclude a treaty, on the other hand are seeking two mutually opposite goals in a follow-on agreement which at this moment appear irreconcilable. First, Russian authorities are pressing for deeper cuts in nuclear-capable launchers and bombers (delivery vehicles - strategic as well as non-strategic) and U.S. negotiators trying to exclude from the treaty weapons converted to non-nuclear missions. START successfully limited the number of strategic delivery vehicles, irrespective of the mission specification of warheads, a criterion Moscow is hard pressing to retain in a new treaty. Although the Bush Administration sought to alter these terms and count only operationally-deployed nuclear warheads , the Obama Administration has so far been vague on this issue. Though the delivery vehicles have been included in the negotiations, there is a significant mystery over US position on conventionally-armed delivery vehicles specifically. Given that Russia is unlikely to cede ground to US on delivery vehicles, will US agree to cut down on delivery vehicles (strategic and non-strategic) is a key question?
Second, the framework agreement does not include the strategic reserve, non-strategic warheads, tactical nuclear weapons, including U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed on the territories of its NATO allies, nor does it require dismantlement of any nuclear warheads. The reduction to 500-1,100 strategic delivery vehicles presented as a “significant reduction in terms of numbers” from the START ceiling of 1,600, is decepxive. In reality, however, the upper limit exceeds what either country currently deploys, and the lower limit apparently higher than what Russia would deploy by 2017 as per the current trends of Russian modernization. Therefore, a 500 -1,100 limit doesn’t force either country to make substantial reductions in their nuclear force structure but essentially follows current deployment plans.
If the non-strategic delivery vehicles are kepx out of the purview of follow on agreement, it gives US the required flexibility and manoeuvrability that allows them flexible calculations of extended deterrence towards its allies. US experts believes that a new START is important to drive the Russians toward a more stabilizing strategic posture that does not depend heavily on MIRV’ed ICBMs, and would enable them to monitor Russian nuclear weapons programs.  While the Russian delivery forces are on the decline what US wants is to limit their warheads through the treaty arrangement. The declining Russian delivery vehicles would not affect the Russian force structures as the reduction in strategic warheads will. Thus, in order to maintain the strategic balance if not parity, Russians are demanding deeper cuts in US strategic delivery vehicles. However, US appears reluctant to Russian requests for cuts in force structure before completion of nuclear posture review. Thus the ongoing negotiations appear to be directed at not making any deeper cuts in strategic posture of both countries.
The ultimate objective of US for START follow-on treaty is to push Russia towards a meaningful strategic stability without tinkering with their strategic posture to any large extent and locking the Russians in legally binding verifiable treaty. Would such a treaty be accepxable to Russia is a moot question at this juncture. The Russians have been testing a new multiple-warhead version of the “Topol-M ballistic missile”  that would be prohibited under START. Russia is deploying the MIRV’ed Topol because Moscow wants to keep its warhead numbers constant, even as the overall number of delivery vehicles descends. Is Russia planning to restructure its strategic forces to assert its revisionism in long term way? The end of START-I in December would put an end to legal restrictions of testing and deploying Topol. If Russia is serious about reasserting its military influence in world politics, perhaps they would back out from extending the existing treaty. Though Washington and Moscow are committed to concluding a START-I follow-on agreement that includes some sort of verification provisions and additional reductions; it is unclear if the December 5 deadline would be met.
A key concepx for arms control has been a strategic stability. Traditional arms control process is all but eliminating ambiguities in force structure that enhances predictability; help stabilize a strategic relationship, and contribute to peace and security. While the stability is largely interpreted in technical parameters; the problems of security are percepxively political. Though President Obama has made the case for reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in national security strategy, the ongoing negotiations are essentially aimed at maintaining the current force structure centred at the concepx of deterrence and strategic stability thereby extending the strategic thinking of bygone era to current times. Thus the treaty negotiated in current framework would significantly fall short of expectations that after the implementation of the treaty both Russia and US would continue to hold 90% of world nukes. It prompxs one to ask if Arms control in 21st century is any different from cold war era and whether the START - follow on agreement is in sync with and President Obama’s larger vision of step by step movement to nuke free world?
For any meaningful arms control in 21st century, should address the larger issue of possible doctrinal changes that deemphasizes maintaining mammoth arsenals, facilitates deeper cuts in delivery vehicles and warheads, tactical weapons, warheads in storage and advocates CBMs on issues of missile defence. At this stage it is certainly inexplicable as to why treaty requires seven years for implementation when the agreement could be implemented well within a year using past experiences. Secondly given the tremendous conventional superiority – technical and numerical - that US has, why it is unwilling to move towards de-legitimizing strategic forces in military doctrines.
Kapil Patil is Research Intern at Indian Pugwash Society, New Delhi.
 President Obama’s Speech on Nuclear Weapons at Prague: [FULL TEXT], [URL] at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/05/obama-prague-speech-on-nu_n_183219.html
 President Obama Holds a News Conference with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia on 6th July 2009. [FULL TEXT] [URL] at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/06/AR2009070601537.html
 The START follow-on negotiations: Russians focus on delivery vehicles, BASIC Getting to Zero Papers (14), 1 July 2009 at www.basicint.org/gtz/gtz14.htm
 Jeffrey Lewis, Dead Hand, START and Strategy Stability, 7th October 2009, [URL] http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/
 Senate Republican Policy Committee - START Follow on Dos and Don’ts - Sep 30, 2009. [URL] http://rpc.senate.gov/public/_files/093009STARTFollowonDosandDontsms.pdf