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NTI Seminar: Rose Gottemoeller on her new book, Negotiating the New START Treaty

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In a virtual NTI Seminar on April 20, Rose Gottemoeller, the former lead New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) negotiator for the United States and later NATO Deputy Secretary General, discussed her new book, Negotiating the New START Treaty. With 227 guests tuning in, Gottemoeller described her role in forging what is now the last remaining major nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Russia. During the event, hosted by NTI Co-Chair and CEO Ernest J. Moniz and moderated by Lynn Rusten, NTI’s vice president for the Global Nuclear Policy Program, Gottemoeller gave an inside look into the negotiation of the 2011 treaty and the intensive effort to win bipartisan support for Senate approval of this critical agreement, and she offered lessons for the future of nuclear arms control. Introducing Gottemoeller as “the first woman to serve as chief U.S. negotiator of a bilateral nuclear treaty with Russia,” Moniz noted her distinguished career, their earlier work together at the Department of Energy, and Gottemoeller’s collaboration with NTI on the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV).

Negotiations with the Russian Federation

Gottemoeller began by explaining, “In this book about the New START treaty negotiations, I’ve tried to tell two good stories, actually: one about the negotiations with the Russian Federation, and the second and equally important negotiation with the U.S. Senate to gain advice and consent to the ratification of the New START treaty.” Recounting her experience negotiating New START, Gottemoeller cited the tension between the political desire to achieve an agreement as quickly as possible and the complexity of hammering out the sensitive technical details of the agreement as the greatest challenge she faced. “The Obama Administration didn’t quite understand how long and detailed some parts of the treaty would be to negotiate, particularly the inspection protocol,” she said. She noted that New START included streamlined procedures compared with those in its predecessor, the 1991 START treaty, in part due to the desire of nuclear weapons system operators in the Navy and Air Force to find ways to reduce the impact on their operational practices and tempo where possible. Presidents Obama and Medvedev had, however, given their negotiating teams the instruction to finalize the treaty within six months—before the 1991 START treaty was set to expire in December 2009.

At times, Gottemoeller explained, the U.S. negotiating team felt like it was negotiating not just with the Russian government, but also with their own colleagues back in Washington—especially over the negotiating timeline. When a senior White House official asked her why she couldn’t just “get it done,” she had to explain “quite gently” that when there are detailed technical matters to work out like inspection and verification procedures, it takes some time for both sides to fully elaborate and agree on every detail. Ultimately, they were able to forge a complex and technical agreement on the agreed-upon timetable.

The talks in Geneva also provided an interesting look at differences within the negotiating teams. “We had lots of women in the front row,” including her own deputy Ambassador Marcie Ries, Gottemoeller said, whereas none of the women of the Russian delegation had a main seat at the negotiating table. She took the opportunity to “send a quiet message of support,” sending small gifts during the holidays with a big note saying, “to the women of the Russian delegation,” as well as consistently asking her counterpart to let a woman speak. Six months in, one of the female Russian lawyers finally did sit at the negotiating table. Gottemoeller described her saying, “‘Well, at last I get to speak!’ And then she launched into a very good wrap up of some technical legal issues that we were bringing to a close in the negotiations.” Overall, Gottemoeller’s discussion illustrated how cultures and personalities play a nuanced role in shaping the negotiations.

Negotiations with the U.S. Senate

Gottemoeller then described the “backbreaking amount of labor” required to push the newly negotiated treaty through the U.S. Senate in 2010. She said then-Senator Richard Lugar and then-Vice President Joe Biden acted as “trail bosses,” shepherding the treaty through the ratification process. Her task at that point was to help convince the public of the value of the treaty for U.S. national security. This began with a high-level bipartisan statement supporting the New START treaty and then traveling the country, notably working with faith leaders to engage the public. “We answered over a thousand questions for the record in the context of the ratification process and had countless informal briefings,” Gottemoeller said, noting that senators were briefed throughout the negotiations as well as after their conclusion. Ultimately, the Senate gave its advice and consent to the treaty with overwhelming bipartisan support in December 2010.

Lessons Learned

Looking back, Gottemoeller highlighted two major lessons to be learned. First, “it is very important from the outset to have your national security objectives defined at the highest level” on both sides of the negotiation. When the U.S. and Russian presidents agreed in a joint statement that the objective of the agreement was to limit strategic offensive forces, there was no question as to what was being negotiated. This enabled Gottemoeller to push back successfully against Russian efforts to include missile defenses. High level guidance helped to reduce slow-rolling or attempts to introduce new issues, and the two teams were able to move rapidly to meet a tight deadline. Second, “expect to be knocked off balance—that’s what negotiating is about.” Negotiators naturally play games but fortunately “two can play,” and in the end, Gottemoeller and her Russian counterpart Ambassador Antonov got down to business and with their negotiating teams achieved a deal that served both countries’ interests.

Looking to the future, Gottemoeller praised the five-year extension of New START because it provides a “predictable and stable environment” in which the United States can both modernize its nuclear arsenal and hopefully negotiate a follow-on treaty. She recommended that future agreements directly address the number of all nuclear warheads on both sides, and that the United States explore the seriousness of President Putin’s 2020 offer to place a moratorium with mutual verification measures on the deployment of missiles formerly banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This moratorium, Gottemoeller said, could provide an opportunity to use a regional approach to manage such systems by bringing China into the discussion. Moniz supported Gottemoeller’s recommendations, saying that there is “a lot of interest, certainly among the technical community in getting back to that [e.g., working with the Russians even on such sensitive matters as warhead verification] on both sides.” But he noted the importance of creating political space to support this kind of dialogue moving forward.

Negotiating the New START Treaty is set to be released in May 2021. More details about the book can be found here.

Watch the NTI Seminar here.

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