Sam Nunn testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Sam Nunn testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

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Sam Nunn
Co-Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations On
The Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Strategic Offensive Reductions

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it’s an honor to come before my friends and former colleagues today to offer my views on the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions, and also to discuss the opportunities the U.S. and Russia have to build on this Treaty to make our two nations and our citizens more secure.

Mr. Chairman, I support this Treaty. I believe it deserves ratification by the Senate without any crippling amendments. The Treaty and the accompanying joint statement provide a remarkable foundation for a totally different relationship between the United States and Russia. In the joint statement, there are calls for cooperation in almost every sphere of U.S-Russian relations that you could possibly imagine – except perhaps joint celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It points us in the right direction. It gives us momentum. I congratulate President Bush and his team, as well as President Putin and his team, for the warm spirit behind this short, but important, document.

This Treaty is unlike any I have ever read. If brevity is the soul of wit, as Shakespeare has written, then this Treaty may be one of the wittiest pieces of statesmanship since Benjamin Franklin was appointed Ambassador to France.  

I would call it a “good-faith Treaty.” It expresses — and relies upon — good faith in our common interests and the common vision of our leaders.

Mr. Chairman, I see the value in writing a short, flexible Treaty that lays out a numerical commitment on both sides. I see the upside of avoiding years of tedious negotiations and months of Congressional hearings on every aspect of verification.  

But there is another side to a “good faith treaty.” If it is not followed with other substantive actions, it will become irrelevant at best — counterproductive at worse. A good faith treaty, without any follow-up, means that if relations improve, the two sides may not need it. If relations turn bad, the two sides may not honor it. Indeed, the Treaty’s legal commitment for actions by both sides endures for only a stated hour on a single day ten years in the future, so the spirit of the Treaty is far more important than its legal requirements.  

History’s view of this Treaty will be written as the sequels unfold. What matters most is what happens next. We must capitalize on the current good will between our eaders and our countries to make decisive and enduring changes that will benefit our mutual long-term security. This means acting boldly while relations are good — by building a platform of joint activities that are of mutual benefit and can survive even if relations turn bad. This will also help reduce the chances that the relationship will turn bad.

As members of the Committee know very well, concerns have been raised that the Treaty includes no benchmarks for progress or mechanism for verification, no timetable for reductions, no obligation to eliminate any warheads. I hope these issues are intended to be addressed in the bilateral implementation commission.

For instance, I understand on good authority that the United States sought reciprocal transparency on warheads associated with our deployed strategic bomber force. I hope that in the future, the U.S. will put forth a comprehensive transparency proposal that includes all of our operationally deployed systems and that Russia will respond constructively.

There are also concerns on the question of verification and mileposts. Unless there are subsequent agreements or understandings, the lack of mileposts, combined with the lack of any verification in the last three years of the Treaty (because of START I expiration) could provoke uncertainty and suspicion as the day of the Treaty’s legal compliance draws near. The U.S. Department of Defense should develop and make public at the earliest possible date its own plans for reducing our “operationally deployed” forces under this Treaty, and I urge Russia to do the same.

The Treaty includes no obligation to eliminate warheads, launchers or silos. The Administration has defended the absence of warhead elimination by pointing out that no earlier Treaty called for destruction of warheads. While this is true, it is also true that earlier treaties were not signed at a time when nuclear weapons and materials were as vulnerable to terrorists. Nor were earlier treaties signed at a time when we were helping Russia safeguard and destroy nuclear weapons. And it is also true that Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in Helsinki in 1997 agreed to a framework for START III negotiations that did call for the “destruction of strategic nuclear warheads to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions.” So these questions are being appropriately raised by you, Senator Biden, and you, Senator Lugar, as well as other members of the Committee.

Tactical nuclear weapons are another piece of unaddressed business. These weapons have never been covered in arms control treaties. We can only guess at the numbers in each other’s inventories as well as the locations. Yet these are the nuclear weapons most attractive to terrorists – even more valuable to them than fissile material and much more portable than strategic warheads. The United States and Russia should insist on accurate accounting and adequate safeguards for tactical nuclear weapons, including a baseline inventory of these weapons with sufficient transparency to assure each other that these weapons are being handled in a safe and secure manner. This type of agreement may be hard to achieve, but it is difficult for me to envision keeping the “U.S.-Russian/Bush-Putin positive spirit” for the duration of this Treaty unless we deal with the tactical nuclear weapons question. One hypothetical illustration, Mr. Chairman: Suppose a terrorist tactical weapon was detonated in an American or Russian city — would either of our two nations be able to confidently determine its origin in a timely fashion? Could good relations survive this horror if the fundamental question of weapon origin remained unanswered? Or worse, what if the isotopic fingerprint of that weapon showed it to be of Russian origin? I submit that it would be far better to prevent the catastrophe by cooperation on tactical nuclear weapons beginning now and to work together to be able to answer this question accurately and quickly if, God forbid, a weapon is missing or if the event occurs.

From my perspective, the questions I have raised are not reasons to amend the Treaty or reject the Treaty; they are reasons to build upon it. I believe that both Presidents should work to see that the Treaty they have signed will be supplemented by additional agreements to ensure the transparency, mutual confidence, and stability that will make these reductions a positive turning point, not a diplomatic footnote. The goal of stability would be substantially advanced by both sides dismantling a large number of nuclear weapons from each nation's stockpile. In my view, such steps would dramatically increase the value of the Treaty.

The next step that I believe the Administration should address with Russia (an issue that may well be more important to stability and security than the number of nuclear weapons) is our nuclear posture – the high-alert status of our arsenals that gives our two countries the capacity for a rapid, massive, nuclear attack that would incinerate our nations and end the world as we know it.

In a period of good relations, it is hard to illustrate the imperative of making changes to reduce the risk of today's U.S.-Russian nuclear posture, and analogies normally miss the mark, but let me try. For those unaccustomed to Dr. Strangelove thinking, it might help to imagine that two families – bitter former enemies, now declared friends — continue to have six high-powered, lethal automatic weapons, each loaded, ready to fire, finger on the trigger, and aimed to kill.

Imagine you were one of these neighbors and you wanted to defuse the danger, so you said to your counterpart: Let’s reduce the number of weapons we have from six down to two …. ten years from now. In the meantime, we will both keep our weapons loaded, ready to fire, with our fingers on the triggers. That’s basically our current agreement with Russia, but the spirit of the agreement opens many doors.

The United States and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to launch within minutes — essentially the same posture we had throughout the Cold War.

In those days, there was a grim logic to keeping forces on high alert. Everything about military culture demands alertness and readiness. But we are now in a different world, and we must think anew. Today, this posture increases the risk it was designed to reduce. U.S. capability and capacity for a rapid, massive strike may well increase the chance of a Russian mistake. Why? Because Russia can no longer afford to keep its nuclear subs at sea or its land-based missiles mobile and invulnerable. This reduces Russia's confidence that its nuclear weapons can survive a first strike, which means it is more likely to launch its nuclear missiles on warning – a warning that would come from a Russian warning system that is seriously eroded, and in my opinion – more prone to mistakes.

That is why I strongly believe that the next step our two nations must take is to ease our fingers away from the nuclear trigger. It’s too easy for a trigger finger to slip; too easy to think you see the other person’s trigger finger begin to squeeze. In that sense, there is a great risk to our current posture. And that risk comes with very little reward. Today we don’t need launch readiness rates of a few minutes to protect ourselves. I believe that with our robust and survivable nuclear forces we could deter an attack with forces that can respond in a few hours, days or even weeks. Increased decision time would give each President time to deliberate on the momentous decision to obliterate another nation and make sure all of their fail-safes have time to work and that we have done everything possible to avoid a world-ending mistake. So today, Mr. Chairman, I do not believe that our continued Cold War operational status adds to our deterrence or enhances either side’s security; it does, however, increase the chance of a catastrophic accident made from too little information and too little time.

This concern is not mine alone. It is President Bush’s as well, as he expressed it more than two years ago when he was still a candidate for President. In a speech in Washington, where he declared his plan to pursue the lower possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with national security, he said: “In addition, the United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status. For two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. As President, I will ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces.”

President Bush has worked to fulfill his pledge to reduce the number of nuclear warheads. I hope he will now move expeditiously to undo what he has called “another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation” and “remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status.”

I believe both Presidents should order their defense and military leaders, in joint consultation and collaboration, to devise changes in the operational status of their nuclear forces that would reduce toward zero the risk of accidental launch or miscalculation and provide increased launch decision time for each President.

Both sides could increase decision time by eliminating the prompt launch readiness requirement for as many forces as possible, getting these weapons off hair trigger. We could begin by ordering an immediate operational stand-down of the weapons on both sides that are now scheduled for reductions. This is not beyond our capacity. A similar step was taken in 1991 at the very end of the Cold War by President George Herbert Walker Bush, who directed the immediate stand-down of all U.S. strategic bombers and all intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) scheduled for deactivation under the START I Treaty.

There are a number of other options that could be considered. I am well aware that each option demands careful review, but I believe there are a few things we can do readily to improve the situation.

Both sides could accelerate efforts to work together to improve Russia’s eroded early warning capabilities, both by radar and satellites. The Joint Early Warning Center in Moscow, announced at the Clinton-Putin summit in June of 2000, is still not operational. This center would give Russians access to U.S. early warning data and could be a huge confidence builder. Here the Russians have been dragging their feet for inexplicable reasons. President Putin must cut through his own bureaucracy on this one and make it happen. A second way to address this issue would be to establish an early warning network by placing a suite of sensors outside each missile silo so that each side would know immediately if the other launched its ICBMs.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative has commissioned the RAND Corporation to study these and other issues in further detail and their analysis will be available in the coming months.

Expanding nuclear decision time may require force structure changes, deployment changes, and other approaches. It is sure to be a complicated undertaking, but I believe that expanding decision time in the event of a nuclear crisis may do more to reduce the risk of a catastrophe between the U.S. and Russia than reducing the absolute number of weapons. Presidents Bush and Putin said in their joint statement that our nations are “committed to developing a relationship based on friendship, cooperation, common values, trust, openness, and predictability.” If we were smart enough at the height of the Cold War to be able to begin reducing nuclear weapons in a verifiable way, surely in the second decade after the end of the Cold War, we can find a way to expand decision time with no loss of security. The two Presidents should leave the details for joint expert study, but give a clear order that decision time for U.S. and Russian leaders must be increased.

Let me address another crucial issue that is now in the hands of Congress regarding the Nunn-Lugar program. Under this Treaty, whether the warheads are removed and destroyed or removed and stored, we have a strong security interest in helping Russia keep warheads and materials safe and secure and out of dangerous hands.

In light of this, Mr. Chairman, I want to express my profound concern that much of the vital work being done in Russia to protect America from a nuclear catastrophe is being put on hold because the Administration has not been able to certify Russia’s commitment to comply with arms control agreements. I believe that Russia should fully implement its strong verbal commitments to comply with all of its treaty obligations. At the same time, I strongly support President Bush’s request to Congress to grant a permanent annual waiver so that the Nunn-Lugar program can continue its work.

As my friend and colleague Senator Lugar put it so vividly at a meeting of this committee two weeks ago: “There are submarines awaiting destruction at the Kola peninsula; regiments of SS-18s, loaded with 10 warheads a piece awaiting destruction in Siberia, two million rounds of chemical weapons awaiting elimination at Shchuchye,” but Congress is forcing us to delay our plans to hire American contractors to dismantle these Russian weapons because it has not yet granted President Bush’s request.

Whatever our differences with Russia over its arms control commitments, suspending efforts to reduce the nuclear threat to the United States should not be viewed as leverage and is not the answer. To me, getting this program in forward gear is a top priority in preventing catastrophic terrorism and providing homeland security. I strongly urge the Congress to grant the President’s request for a permanent annual waiver without delay.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, the United States and Russia must not only reduce numbers, address operational status, and supplement the Treaty with agreements that will enhance transparency, irreversibility and stability; our two nations must also launch and lead a Global Coalition against Catastrophic Terrorism.

The gravest danger in the world today remains the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, but the gravest threat to U.S. security is not by a nation state but rather from terrorists like al Qaeda. The chain of worldwide security is only as strong as the link at the weakest, worst-defended site, which is sometimes no more than an underpaid, unarmed guard sitting inside a chain-linked fence. This means that the United States and Russia are in a new arms race. This time, we are on the same side. Terrorists and certain states are racing to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we ought to be racing together to stop them.

A Global Coalition against Catastrophic Terrorism must be based on the central security realities of our new century: First, the greatest dangers are threats all nations face together and no nation can solve on its own. Second: The most likely, most immediate threat is terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. Third: The best way to address the threat is to keep terrorists from acquiring nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Fourth, the most effective, least expensive way to prevent nuclear, biological and chemical terrorism is to secure nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and materials at the source. Acquiring weapons and materials is the hardest step for the terrorists to take, and the easiest step for us to stop. By contrast, every subsequent step in the process is easier for the terrorists to take and harder for us to stop. Once they gain access to materials, they’ve completed the most difficult step. That is why defense against catastrophic terrorism must begin with securing weapons and materials in every country and every facility that has them.

Members of the Global Coalition against Catastrophic Terrorism would include every nation that has something to safeguard or that can make a contribution to safeguarding it, including Europe, Japan, China, India, Pakistan and the many nations that host research reactors using weapons-grade fuel. All nations, however much they might differ over policies on the nuclear arsenals possessed by governments, should recognize a clear, shared interest in unifying to keep weapons of mass destruction away from terrorists.

Each member should make a contribution to the coalition's activities commensurate with its capabilities and traditions. As with the coalition against al Qaeda, this one would extend its reach to wherever in the world the means for terrorism using weapons of mass destruction can be found. Nations in the coalition would cooperate to combat such terrorism in all phases — prevention, detection, protection, interdiction and response.

For nuclear weapons, the coalition should agree to best practices for protecting all fissile material everywhere, as though it were a bomb. Assistance could be offered to those who need help meeting the standards. Coalition members could also agree to come to one another's aid to find materials lost or seized, and to clean up if a radiological disaster occurred.

For bioterrorism, the coalition would develop best practices for safeguarding dangerous animal and plant pathogens, develop public health surveillance methods to detect bioterrorism in its early stages (thereby also making a needed contribution to global public health) and perform cooperative research in vaccines, treatments, forensics and decontamination.  

I applaud President Bush’s leadership and success in achieving a commitment by the G-8 leaders to establish a global partnership against catastrophic terrorism and in combining $10 billion from the U.S. and $10 billion from our G-8 partners over a 10-year period to help reduce the risk worldwide from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The new global partnership will support “specific cooperation projects, initially in Russia, to address non-proliferation, disarmament, counter-terrorism, and nuclear safety issues.” Priority concerns include “destruction of chemical weapons, the dismantlement of decommissioned nuclear submarines, the disposition of fissile materials and the employment of former weapons scientists.” The G-8 announcement is an important step toward building a global coalition, and we must focus now on implementation of this important work.

The relations between the Presidents of Russia and the United States are warm. Our perception of our common interest is closer than it has been since World War II. We must build on this new strategic relationship to improve our security.

Mr. Chairman, President Putin said on his visit last fall to the United States: “People expect U.S. and Russian politicians to leave behind double standards, empty suspicions and hidden goals and engage in an open, direct, and fruitful dialogue … The Cold War must no longer hold us by the sleeve.” The Cold War will continue to hold us by the sleeve until we make deep and lasting cuts in our strategic warheads; make the Treaty’s regime more transparent and verifiable; change our force postures and give our leaders more decision time; promptly account for, secure and eventually eliminate tactical nuclear weapons; and work together more closely to safeguard nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and materials – not only in Russia, but everywhere in the world, including the U.S.

To the extent that the Treaty of Moscow propels our two countries in this direction, it will be an historic turning point in our relations. Certainly, President Bush and President Putin understand this. The accompanying joint statement established the “Consultative Group for Strategic Security,” to be chaired by Secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld and Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Igor Ivanov. As the statement says: “This group will be the principal mechanism through which the sides strengthen mutual confidence, expand transparency, share information and plans, and discuss strategic issues of mutual interest.”

The first meeting of the group will take place in September in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. Secretary Powell said in his testimony here two weeks ago that in these discussions, he and Secretary Rumsfeld will press their counterparts on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons. In my "field of dreams", I hope that there will also be an order from both President Bush and President Putin to increase decision time. Finally, I hope they will address the need on both sides to dedicate more time, energy, and resources to build a Global Coalition against Catastrophic Terrorism by preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and by coordinating our actions if, God forbid, they do.

The success of the Treaty will depend on the success of these follow-up discussions and actions. The items I have outlined today – reducing our strategic warheads; making the Treaty’s regime more transparent and verifiable; changing our force postures to increase decision time; addressing tactical nuclear weapons; and working together more closely to launch a Global Coalition against Catastrophic Terrorism to safeguard nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and material — will test and define this ‘new strategic relationship’.

If we fail to build on this Treaty, the Treaty of Moscow will be seen by history as one written and signed because it was quick and easy, but which reflected no deep commitment to thinking anew. But if the Treaty serves as a catalyst to usher in and accelerate a new strategic relationship that leads to greater security for both nations and all people – then the decision to speedily negotiate and sign the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions may be seen as one of the most important steps in the history of U.S.-Russian relations and in promoting world security.


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