Breaking the Deadlock:
Confidence Building Measures Could Accelerate the Nuclear Weapons Reduction Process
by Anatoli Diakov and Eugene Miasnikov
This paper was published in Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye NG, September 11-17, 1998, pp 1,4, No 40. Translated into English in April, 1999
The deep U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear arms reductions are impossible without establishment of a high level of trust between the two countries, the achievement of which requires purposeful and scrupulously adjusted work in many directions after the long period of Cold War confrontation. The issues of transparency are one of them that are directly linked with confidence building. Their importance is caused by the need to submit convincing evidence to the legislative bodies and to the citizens of these countries as well as to the world community that the nuclear arms reduction process does not damage the strategic balance. The involvement of the other nuclear states and the maintenance of an effective nonproliferation policy are also impossible without these measures.
STAGNATION OF THE STRATEGIC NUCLEAR ARMS REDUCTION PROCESS
Today one can conclude that U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reduction process that was begun in the 1980s is in a state of stagnation. As a rule, the primary blame for that is laid on Russia. The delay with the ratification of the START-2 Treaty does not permit to begin implementing of the already achieved obligations and detaining the initiation of negotiations on START-3, the basic agreement to conduct which was achieved at the Helsinki summit in March 1997.
Nevertheless, a significant portion of the responsibility for the current halt with strategic nuclear weapons reductions also lies on the United States. The policy on NATO expansion, as well as action on violating the 1972 ABM (Antiballistic Missile) Treaty that have been undertaken by the United States since the START-2 Treaty was signed illustrate its true attitude toward transparency in its broad interpretation. The refusal of NATO, in which the United States is the leader, to conclude a binding agreement with Russia on not deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of the new NATO members is the most illustrative example.
Unfortunately, there are also problems in the sphere of the accomplishment of the already achieved agreements. The Russian side is concerned with United States noncompliance with a number of obligations adopted under the START-l Treaty that may be interpreted as a U.S. desire to obtain unilateral advantages. This relates first of all to monitoring the number of warheads on Trident-1 and Trident-2 missiles, the procedure for destroying Peacekeeper (MX) missiles, and the irreversible transformation of B-1 heavy bombers to the use only for non-nuclear missions. For example, the matter of the Trident missiles monitoring problem related with the following fact. In accordance with the Treaty the number of warheads that are assigned to the missile is determined by the number of maneuvers of the bus platform related with the reentry body releasing during a test flight. But according to flight telemetry data the number of such maneuvers exceeds the number of warheads that are assigned to this missile.
And, finally, we must note the continuing U.S. Naval activity near Russia's coast. In the opinion of many Russian experts, it is these American submarine operations near Russia's coast that "sank" the ratification of the START-2 Treaty at the moment when the most favorable conditions existed to do that.
Even right now the U.S. Navy is continuing its dangerous and provocative operations. The event that occurred during elimination of Russian RSM-52 (SS-N-20) solid-fuel missiles in December 1997 is indicative. In total compliance with Russia's obligations according to the START-1 Treaty the missiles were destroyed in the Barents Sea using the launch method from a Typhoon class submarine and subsequent detonation in the air. The invited American inspectors conducted surveillance of the elimination of the submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) from onboard a Russian vessel. However, at the same time, an American Los Angeles Class nuclear attack submarine was located a short distance from the Russian submarine and maneuvered in a dangerous manner. For five hours it refused to respond to the requests of the Russian antisubmarine warfare forces that were conducting surveillance of it and left the area only after warning depth charges were dropped into the water. Acknowledging the fact of the presence of its nuclear submarine in the region of missile elimination, the United States insists on its right to carry out similar operations in future. It is understandable that such steps do not promote either the ratification of the START-2 Treaty by Russia, or the efforts for further nuclear weapons reductions.
The START-1 and START-2 Treaties monitoring measures have addressed quantity of deployed nuclear-warhead delivery systems and the warheads installed on them and also the destruction of the delivery vehicles being eliminated. However, the nuclear-warheads arsenals themselves as well as dismantlement of the nuclear warheads to be eliminated are not covered by monitoring procedures.
Despite the absence of treaty obligations, both sides are nevertheless conducting the elimination of nuclear warheads. According to various estimations, over 10,000 warheads, including approximately 2,000 strategic warheads, have been dismantled in Russia and over 8,000 warheads, including more than 3,000 strategic warheads, have been destroyed in the United States during the past six years. In this regard, we would like to point that the faster the sides achieve agreement on transparency and monitoring measures with regard to elimination of warheads, the more effective their cooperation will be on further and deeper reductions.
One should take into account two key circumstances for the successful development and implementation of transparency measures.
The first of them is associated with the symmetry of the transparency measures being introduced with regard to each of the sides, or reciprocity. No matter how strange it seems, the Joint Russian-American Nuclear Threat Reduction Program (this program is most often called the Nunn-Lugar Program) may cause problems for the strict observance of this condition. Within the framework of this program, the United States provides financial assistance to Russia in the fulfillment of its treaty obligations on nuclear weapons reductions. However, the U.S. Congress accompanies the allocation of money for specific projects with the condition of insuring the access of American inspectors to the Russian facilities where these projects are being carried out. Such approach is justified by the need to monitor the expenditures of the allocated resources. At the same time, it is understood that there is no need for the United States to follow the principle of reciprocity and to provide access for Russian inspectors to similar American facilities. A facility for storage of weapons-grade nuclear material that is being released during the dismantling of nuclear warheads can serve as an example. The construction of a storage facility is being conducted at the Mayak site with the United States assistance. The Russian side announced its readiness to place this facility under bilateral or international monitoring after the completion of construction. However, the American side is seeking the conclusion of such an agreement that would give it the right to monitor this storage facility without reciprocal access for Russian inspectors to a similar facility at Savannah River (South Carolina).
The second circumstance is associated with the fact that nuclear weapons remain in service and continue to play a key role in insuring national security. This requires performing of a series of measures to maintain the enduring stockpile of nuclear warheads in a safe and reliable state. Because warhead design and maintenance operations are the most closed secrets, each side will carry out this activity in a mode of secrecy. For this reason, there is a need to search for a rational compromise between secrecy and transparency.
Table 1. The U.S. Nuclear Warhead Arsenal at the End of 1997 (estimated)
Type of Warheads
Land Based Cruise Missiles
Tactical and Strategic Aircraft Bombs
Sea and Air Launched Cruise Missiles
Strategic Aircraft Bombs
Russia's interest in establishing warhead transparency appears to be elimination of the U.S. large breakout potential that the United States obtained as a result of the conclusion of the START-l and START-2 treaties. First of all, this interest related with the monitored destruction of the strategic warheads that are being removed by way of unloading from Minuteman III (W62, W78) and Trident (W76, W88) missiles, and also from the Peacekeeper (W87) missiles that are being destroyed. However, it is a matter of today’s United States policy and legislation to keep its strategic nuclear arsenal of warheads at the level defined by the START-1 Treaty. And the United States has not made a final decision yet on the issue of what types of warheads and what quantity to maintain in reserve. Moreover, the United States is interested in preserving its most modern W87 and W88 warheads and even intends to use W87 warheads that are being removed from Peacekeeper missiles to equip Minuteman III ICBMs.
In our opinion, taking into account all currently existing circumstances, it would be rational to start creation of warhead transparency regime beginning with the deployed and reserve strategic warheads, and warheads awaiting dismantling.
At the present time, in accordance with the START-1 Treaty the U.S. and Russia are already carrying out inspections for monitoring the number of strategic warheads deployed on the ICBMs and SLBMs. An implementation of non-intrusive radiation monitoring procedures could significantly increase the reliability of monitoring for this category of warheads. Incidentally, we must note the inconsistency of the American side on this issue. It is the United States that proposed to use radiation monitoring instruments to determine the number of warheads on the Russian RS-20M and RS-12M missiles. However, the Russian counter proposal on using these systems for the goals of inspecting the number of warheads on all Russian and American ICBMs and SLBMs is not responded yet.
An agreement on additional monitoring measures will be required with regard to reserve warheads. The exchange of data on storage locations and the number of warheads in each storage facility and also the spot inspection of storage facilities using non-intrusive measures could be among them.
PRODUCTION OUTSIDE OF MONITORING
Monitoring the production of new nuclear warheads, that will be continued to maintain the agreed levels, poses the greatest complexity. Additional complications could arise due to the presumed difference in the service lives of Russian and American warheads. It is thought that the service life of Russian warheads is approximately 1.5-2 times shorter than the service life of American warheads. That means that Russia will be compelled to produce more warheads than the United States to maintain the treaty level. One can completely resolve this problem only under the condition of placing nuclear warhead production under monitoring. The exchange of data on the total number of warheads that have been produced during a definite period of time could be a compromise measure at first.
The main elements of the nuclear warhead destruction transparency regime, as for delivery means, are the exchange of data and a monitoring system. The year 1991 could be taken as a point of departure. The sides could exchange information on the total quantity of actually deployed strategic warheads and those in reserve, on the quantity of newly produced and dismantled warheads, and also on the quantity of released nuclear material. Subsequently, the exchange of data on the warheads that have been destroyed during a certain period of time (without submitting information on types and quantity) and also the total amount of released nuclear material could be conducted on a regular basis.
Table 2. The Russian Federation Nuclear Warhead Arsenal at the End of 1997 (estimated)
Type of Warheads
RSM-50 (I,II,III) (SS-N-18)
Tu-95, Tu-160 Air-Launched Cruise Missiles
Tactical Aviation Bombs and Cruise Missiles
ABM and Air Defense
Monitoring the dismantling of eliminated nuclear warheads will require the fulfillment of two requirements contradicting to each other: on one hand, confirmation that the object dismantled is actually a nuclear warhead and, on the other hand, minimizing possibility of a leak of information on warhead design. Nevertheless, it appears that these requirements can be satisfied if the monitoring procedure is focused on nuclear material that has been released in the process of dismantling warheads and has been placed in closed containers. In this case the task of monitoring will consist of confirming two facts. First of all, confirmation of the fact that the containers that have been transported from the dismantlement facility to the storage facility actually contain weapons-grade nuclear material. Second, confirmation of the fact that this material was actually extracted from the dismantled warhead. The gamma-ray spectroscopy methods have been identified and developed in a joint experiments by the U.S. and Russian experts that permit us to adequately reliably determine the weapons-grade quality of nuclear material and their use should not encounter difficulties of a technical context. As a guarantee of the fact that the material placed in containers actually was extracted from the destroyed warheads - they can be obtained through the proper organization of the dismantling of the warhead and monitoring procedures. Such a procedure could be implemented at the facility, whose task is exclusively dismantling of eliminated warheads. Today four plants exist in Russia that are designated for warhead production and dismantling. Today the plants' capacities are practically not being utilized. Therefore, the concentration of the dismantling of eliminated warheads at one of them should not encounter fundamental difficulties. The possibility of concentrating dismantling at one enterprise also exists in the United States. The Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada test site could become such a facility. Portal and perimeter monitoring of dismantlement facilities, chain-of-custody of warheads and components within them, and also periodical inspection of a dismantlement cell prior to and after dismantlement are capable of providing high confidence that the containers being hauled away from the facility do contain fissile materials from the dismantled warheads. Monitored destruction of the warhead’s body and other non-nuclear components can serve as an additional measure.
While discussing the transparency of the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States, we must not forget about tactical nuclear weapons and the nuclear warheads of long-range sea-launched cruise missiles. But taking into account the complexity and also the need to achieve real progress on transparency measures with regard to warheads, it would be advisable to delay the resolution of the issues on these categories until the next stage. At the same time, it would be desirable to confirm the unilateral obligations on tactical nuclear weapons of 1991 and also to undertake steps toward their development. For example, the sides could exchange information on the number of destroyed warheads of the various tactical systems beginning from 1991.
In our opinion it would be advisable to link a measures to limit nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missiles with the total level of the START-3 Treaty. If an agreement is achieved on a level of 2,000-2,500, then sea-launched cruise missiles must be counted in that number. If this number will be approximately 1,500 warheads, we need to seek the monitored destruction of all warheads for these sea-launched cruise missiles.
The negotiation’s practice indicates that the United States has manifested greater activity in achieving transparency than Russia. It could be explained, to some extent, that conducting of monitoring measures requires large financial expenditures and that is a deterring factor for Russia. Under conditions of limited financial capabilities, when today Russia allocates two orders of magnitude less resources to the maintenance of its nuclear weapons complex than the United States does, secrecy is a natural measure that increases security guarantees in the event of the unfavorable development of events.
At the same time, the Russian side could take a more active position with regard to the transparency of nuclear weapons reductions. Transparency issues could be formally discussed outside the direct context of negotiations on START-3, with which the American side does not desire to link itself until the approval of the START-2 Treaty by the Russian parliament.
During of 1994-1995, both sides conducted a series of negotiations at various levels and a document that opens the path to transparency of the warhead arsenals was practically completely agreed upon. And although the negotiations on these issues were subsequently broken off, nevertheless many details remain painstakingly developed and agreed to. Finally, the issues that cause concern for the Russian side, including the issues of the "breakout potential", could be addressed within the framework of these renewed negotiations. On the whole, real progress in this sphere will be facilitated by a more favorable situation for the ratification of START-2 in Russia and will prepare the ground for achieving an understanding on the next stage of reductions.
© Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1999
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