The Obama administration is investigating how the United States and Russia might productively swap additional data on their respective nuclear arsenals and associated assets, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said on Thursday (see GSN, Aug. 2).
"We would ... like to increase transparency on a reciprocal basis with Russia," Gottemoeller said, according to released remarks. "We are in the process of thinking through how this and other such transparency measures might be implemented."
Matters of inquiry include details that would be productive and suitable to exchange; degrees of specificity to which each nation might describe quantities, models and siting of its nuclear weapons and support systems; and what "classes and types" of armaments are appropriate for inclusion, she said during the U.S. Strategic Command 2011 Deterrence Symposium in Omaha, Neb.
"We will consult with our NATO allies and invite Russia to join with us to develop an initiative, including examination of potential reciprocal actions that could be taken in parallel by the United States and Russia," Gottemoeller said.
The diplomat also voiced the administration's interest in negotiating additional "broad reductions" to U.S. and Russian atomic arsenals in a bilateral pact covering strategic and battlefield armaments as well as weapons held in reserve. The New START pact, which entered into force on February 5, requires the sides to each reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by next year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 strategic systems permitted in reserve.
"Our conversation with Russia must include defining what exactly constitutes a nonstrategic nuclear weapon and whether or not a single overall limit on all nuclear weapons would be possible," Gottemoeller said. "We have a lot of very complicated issues to consider, so the more creative and innovative ideas we have to work with, the better off we will be."
Implementation of the New START pact "has been very pragmatic, businesslike, and positive" she stated earlier in her speech. "We are constantly in communication with our Russian colleagues and the implementation process has been precise and efficient."
"On-site inspections have begun and as of today, the United States and Russia together have conducted eight inspections," Gottemoeller said. "We are keeping par with each other."
"For the first time, we are receiving data about actual re-entry vehicle (warhead) loadings on Russia’s missiles and they receive the same data from us; on-site inspection procedures under New START allow the United States to confirm the actual number of warheads on any randomly selected Russian ICBM and [submarine-launched ballistic missile]. This verification task and inspection right did not exist under the START treaty," according to the official.
She noted: "Last March, the United States conducted exhibitions of its B-1B and B-2A heavy bombers and the Russian Federation conducted an exhibition of its RS-24 ICBM and associated mobile launcher. That was the first time we had a chance to see the RS-24, the new Russian mobile missile with multiple warheads.
"Just two weeks ago, we passed the 1,000th notification between the United States and the Russian Federation under the New START treaty. These notifications help to track movement and changes in the status of systems ... including, for example, the notification of every time a heavy bomber is moved out of its home country for more than 24 hours.
"In addition, every six months we exchange a comprehensive database," Gottemoeller said. "This gives us a full accounting of exactly where weapons systems are located, whether they are out of their deployment or operational bases and gone to maintenance or have been retired. This semiannual exchange, along with the continuous updates and mandatory treaty notifications provide, create a 'living document,' a comprehensive look into each other’s strategic nuclear forces.
"The New START treaty data exchanges are providing us with a more detailed picture of Russian strategic forces than we were able to obtain from earlier exchanges and the inspections will give us crucial opportunities to confirm the validity of that data," she added. "Of course, reciprocal rights apply to the Russian side. Finally, both of us back up the verification regime with our own National Technical Means of Verification, our satellites and other monitoring platforms.
"We’ve found that concerns regarding New START verification measures during the Senate ratification debate are being assuaged. Our experience so far is demonstrating that the New START treaty’s verification regime works, and will help to push the door open to new, more intrusive inspections involving warheads or other smaller items of account. Such inspections will be crucial to any future nuclear reduction plans," Gottemoeller said.
The official emphasized the need for Moscow and Washington to also pursue disarmament dialogue with the world's other three recognized nuclear powers: China, France and the United Kingdom. The five governments in talks several weeks ago addressed nuclear monitoring, data-sharing and trust-building steps, and they intend to convene further talks on the sidelines of a 2012 preparatory meeting for the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, she said (see GSN, July 5; U.S. State Department release, Aug. 4).