U.S. Should Pursue Further Nuclear Arms Cuts With Russia: State Dept. Panel

A preliminary assessment by a U.S. State Department body advises the United States to propose cutting its fielded quantity of long-range nuclear weapons to 1,000 or fewer and capping its number of extended-distance carriers at 500 in exchange for equivalent moves by Russia, Inside Defense reported on Thursday (see GSN, Aug. 6).

A "mutual unilateral reduction" beyond mandates imposed by the New START treaty would ideally also encompass tactical atomic armaments, according to the International Security Advisory Board analysis. The New START pact, which took effect last year, requires each power's launch-ready nuclear force by 2018 to include no more than 1,550 long-range warheads.

"The United States could communicate to Russia that the United States is prepared to go to much lower levels of nuclear weapons as a matter of national policy, e.g. to no more than 500 strategic delivery vehicles and 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, if Russia is willing to reciprocate," the board said. "This could greatly reduce Russia's incentive to build a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile and allow the United States to reduce the scope and cost of its nuclear modernization plans" (see GSN, May 8).

The two governments might "define unilateral, cooperative steps for reduction of nonstrategic weapons, including appropriate verification measures," it suggests.

The paper adds that "lingering concerns over asymmetries between U.S. and Russian stockpile composition, force structures and reconstitution capabilities" must come under consideration in potential bids by Washington to achieve long-range atomic arsenal curbs as deep or deeper than those the document suggests. A comparable effort to eliminate battlefield armaments would need to acknowledge such factors and to establish target quantities, it states.

Recent news reports have indicated the Obama administration is considering options for making further cuts to the nation's nuclear arms holdings.

The State Department group said little prospect exists in the immediate future for decreasing nuclear-weapon quantities below its suggested counts. Advocates of deeper curbs include retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, a former head of U.S. Strategic Command (see GSN, May 16).

"Arms control fatigue, electoral politics and the thorny issue of missile defense have all converged in 2012, creating poor conditions for trust and dialogue," the document states. "These recommended steps, however, are modest enough that they could be implemented by a president with a strong national security record and a Russia suspicious of U.S. intentions, but facing budget pressures on its own nuclear arsenal."

Moscow, though, could resist the proposals as a result of "cultural or bureaucratic barriers" to additional reductions and oversight, according to the analysis. "These initiatives would test Russia's intentions to find possible realms of longer-term agreement," it says.

The document's authors separately called on the United States and Russia to shorten their timeline for complying with New START nuclear-weapon limits.

Moscow's nuclear stockpile is projected by the end of the decade to include no more than around 1,100 bombs covered under the pact and 400 launch systems. Washington would  "proceed slowly down to treaty limits, downloading warheads from ICBMs and (surface-launched ballistic missiles) and reducing the launchers while modernizing its strategic forces," they stated.

The governments "might consider announcing, as parallel unilateral steps, that they will implement the reductions prior to the 2015 (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) review conference," the paper says. In addition, Washington might "take off of operational status all of the strategic nuclear weapons it would be reducing," it suggests.

Washington could pursue a common standard for characterizing tactical atomic armaments as a means of speeding advancement toward an eventual pact on the bombs, the document states. The United States and Russia could each bolster relevant disclosures and move to increase monitoring of battlefield arms, it adds.

"Steps include reciprocally disclosing aggregate numbers of nonstrategic weapons -- beginning with 1991 data and working toward current data," according to the assessment.

Initial efforts could confirm that sites addressed by previous Presidential Nuclear Initiatives presently contain no tactical nuclear armaments, the analysis suggests. In addition, bilateral "lab-to-lab cooperation" might aim to address hindrances to confirming bomb dismantlement and quantity curbs, it continues.

The International Security Advisory Board is "helping us with some big thinking," acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said last week in reference to the analysis. She did not elaborate on its proposals.

Nonproliferation expert Graham Allison headed the creation of a separate May assessment that served as the State Department paper's basis; former Defense Secretary William Perry supervised the earlier document's development (Christopher Castelli, Inside Defense, Aug. 16).

August 17, 2012
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A preliminary assessment by a U.S. State Department body advises the United States to propose cutting its fielded quantity of long-range nuclear weapons to 1,000 or fewer and capping its number of extended-distance carriers at 500 in exchange for equivalent moves by Russia, Inside Defense reported on Thursday.