New START Follow-Up Talks Seen Addressing All U.S., Russian Nuclear Arms

Any future nuclear-weapon reduction talks between Russia and the United States would probably need to encompass each side's entire atomic arsenal, including nonstrategic and longer-distance armaments both held in reserve and deployed on missiles, bombers or submarines, U.S. officials involved in hashing out a landmark bilateral strategic arms control pact said on Friday (see GSN, Feb. 9).

The U.S. nuclear stockpile totaled 5,113 weapons in September 2009, according to a Defense Department disclosure; the count included strategic and tactical arms located both on and off delivery systems (see GSN, May 4, 2010).

Russian nuclear-weapon holdings appear to be "in shouting distance of that," said Edward Warner, who served as the Pentagon's representative to negotiations on the New START pact.

New START, which entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011, requires each government by 2018 to reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by this year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded strategic warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve. The treaty does not cover any nonstrategic nuclear bombs or warheads not placed on launch-ready delivery systems.

When President Obama inked the agreement, he expressed a wish to pursue additional discussions incorporating the entire spectrum of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, Warner said (see GSN, Feb. 3, 2011).

"What the president said is ... the next time we look at this, we really ought to look at the total operational inventory, the nuclear stockpile of operational weapons," the official said. "And that would be strategic and nonstrategic, and both deployed and nondeployed."

Preparations for potential additional nuclear reduction discussions have benefited from New START-related operations carried out following the pact's entry into force, but "the next treaty will be one that I think takes us in some more challenging directions," acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said.

No negotiations on a potential New START successor are imminent, as presidential elections are scheduled this year in both the United States and Russia, Reuters reported.

The governments in the meantime are pursuing "homework" aimed at paving the way for possible nuclear-weapon meetings following the polls, Warner said (David Alexander, Reuters, Feb. 10).

An agreement on tactical nuclear arms would enable each country to reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,000 under a future treaty, the London Guardian quoted Bruce Blair, co-founder of the nuclear disarmament organization Global Zero, as saying. The group earlier this month urged Russia and the United States to place into storage all tactical nuclear weapons now deployed in Europe (see GSN, Feb. 3).

The United States is believed to keep roughly 200 short-range nuclear weapons at military installations in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Russia's count of fielded tactical nuclear bombs is reported to be about 10 times that amount.

Global Zero primarily seeks to end a deadlock in discussions on potential further weapons curbs, said former British Defense Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who sits on the organization's panel of acting and retired government defense personnel.

"It is the prospect of the momentum towards further major reductions in nuclear weapons grinding to a halt that is the key concern," Rifkind said.

The United States should independently remove its B-61 nuclear gravity bombs from Europe in an effort to kick-start atomic arms negotiations with Russia, said Daryl Kimball, who heads the Arms Control Association in Washington. Moscow has declared such discussions contingent on a resolution to a long-running dispute over missile defense and U.S. withdrawal of the B-61 bombs.

"These weapons have absolutely no military value. Remove them and you remove the excuse for Russia not talking about tactical nuclear weapons," Kimball said.

President Obama's GOP challengers could seek to exploit such a move, but if a forthcoming NATO Deterrence and Defense Posture review endorses the withdrawal, "then the Republican candidates will have a tough time explaining why that is a problem," the expert said.

A number of European nations have expressed reservations about such a move, but proponents suggest maintaining a U.S. military presence through installations or cooperative drills would prove less costly and more effective. Blair suggested economic pressures could force the governments to take the less expensive course.

Withdrawal of the nonstrategic weapons from Europe could encourage other countries to refrain from seeking their own nuclear deterrents, but Russia and the United States have generally failed to acknowledge that possibility, according to the Guardian (Julian Borger, London Guardian, Feb. 3).

February 13, 2012
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Any future nuclear-weapon reduction talks between Russia and the United States would probably need to encompass each side's entire atomic arsenal, including nonstrategic and longer-distance armaments both held in reserve and deployed on missiles, bombers or submarines, U.S. officials involved in hashing out a landmark bilateral strategic arms control pact said on Friday.