The Future of Russian-US Strategic Arms Reductions: START III and Beyond
Romashkin noted that increased uncertainty in the location of submarine and mobile land-based launchers does not necessarily increase stability. He posited a counterexample whereby, in his estimation, the uncertainties associated with SLBM launch from an ocean may cause confusion as to the identity of the attacker.
Further, we must keep in mind the following points: An early warning system only confirms the fact of a launch, as opposed to providing hard data on the identity of the launcher; the final decision to launch is made based on data from surface units whose communications are reliable; submarines and mobile launchers are both vulnerable to non-nuclear attack which decreases stability; and finally, control over submarine forces is lower, resulting in a lower probability of their receiving a firing order.
In response to Ted Postol's point regarding the vulnerability of land-based ICBMs to Trident attacks, he pointed out that typically only 20-25% of the Russian SLBM force is available and at sea; the remainder, in port, are just as vulnerable if not more so to Trident attacks.
Mobile and land-based ICBMs have about the same reliability - that is, ability to retaliate after an attack - of roughly 15%. Taking into account the aforementioned communications problems with the submarine force, its reliability is worse.
Romashkin's characterization of the optimal situation would be matched forces consisting of 1,000 or fewer silo-launched single-warhead missiles. These missiles should be housed in such a way as to require a 2-on-1 attack at minimum to ensure their destruction. He further noted that breakout from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty would make the stability provided by such forces moot, as their retaliatory capabilities would be addressable through other means by the opponent.
Romashkin began his prepared presentation by noting that START III, if implemented, would limit weapons to 2,500 per side as it stands framed today, although this number will probably change. Given the end of the Cold War, both sides need to consider their forces as deterrents as opposed to combat forces. During the Cold war, the concept of 'unacceptable loss' was put forth by Secretary of Defense McNamara: 'mutual assured destruction' was designed to ensure the causation of 'unacceptable loss' to the other side. This level of destruction was typically characterized as between 65% and 70% of military forces, 1,000 military installations, 25% of population, etc. Since this only took into account the immediate blast effects of the weapons, the requirements for force sizing were highly inflated. Romashkin recommended that 'unacceptable losses' be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as opposed to a universal standard.
Strikes against nuclear or petrochemical energy and chemical industries have significant externalities which affect states other than intended target. If we do not take this into account, deterrence for the U.S. is easier than for Russia if calculations are made using a McNamara-like scale. This is because the target set for the U.S. has shrunk with the breakup of the Soviet Union, while the Russian forces must cope with the same or larger target set with fewer resources.
START II will lead to significant cuts on both sides, as well as qualitative restrictions. This is disadvantageous for Russia, since Russia is already at a disadvantage. Lack of consideration of this imbalance has affected and continues to hinder ratification.
Romashkin argued that China, France, and Britain should be involved in reduction talks at an equal level as a bloc which should have the same general limits as the U.S. and Russian forces.
Any deployment of ABM systems will be destabilizing, since it makes calculating levels of 'unacceptable loss' force levels difficult if not impossible.
How could the Russian Triad be changed after START II cuts? In order to increase strategic stability, it makes sense to ban not only land-based MIRVs but sea-based MIRV systems as well. This will reduce the uncertainty in identifying the aggressor.
In making any decisions that will affect the nature of the triad as opposed to its balance, one should keep in mind that aviation is the only 'abortable' arm of the triad, and as such should be given special consideration.
The Russian triad will be affected differently than the American one. In considering cuts, the Russian air force has always held a tertiary role. In addition, the most modern aircraft (the Tupolev-160 'Blackjacks') were in the Ukraine at the breakup of the USSR, and have received little maintenance or training time since. Thus, reductions would primarily fall on the land-based ICBM force; this would favor the Russian naval forces. If land and sea-based MIRV weapons are banned, it would be difficult for the Russians to achieve and maintain a force as large as 2,500 warheads (the proposed limit). Numbers of 2,000 and fewer are achievable, and would leave land-based ICBM's pre-eminent.
In another potential case, if land-based MIRVs and heavy bombers are banned, at a limit of 1,500 weapons the Navy would have priority. This priority would shift towards the land-based force at lower levels. If all MIRVed weapons and heavy bombers are banned, the situation will be tenable at a level of 1200 or 1250 weapons; below 800, the triad will become a monad.
It should be kept in mind that shrinking the land-based forces will lower explicitly the number of weapons that require nuclear forces to destroy; this will decrease stability.
Sea-launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMs) and tactical warheads, given the expansion of NATO, threaten Russian strategic forces. Therefore, such weapons must be accounted for and addressed in any discussion of cuts if NATO expansion is carried out. Non-deployment of nuclear weapons in the new NATO states will preserve stability; however, if this ban is not achieved, there will be no ratification of further START treaties.
Ted Postol reiterated that he was primarily concerned with reducing the chances of nuclear use. The problem is not one of the rational use of nuclear weapons, in his opinion, since rational decision-makers will never use them. The problem is in crisis-pressured decisions. Therefore, we need to create a situation for decision-makers where they can always 'wait and see' ('ride out' in Cold War U.S. parlance).
Postol offered as example Col. Romashkin's posited situation of a French SLBM launch. French missiles may look, initially, just like U.S. or British SLBMs to a Russian early warning system, but aren't! You need to give decision-makers time to determine who is attacking.
Russian land-mobile missiles might be made survivable if force levels are low enough that their operational areas cannot be barraged and they are properly dispersed; neither of which is true now. Perhaps smaller forces will free up resources for their proper operation.
Romashkin agreed, in response, that response time is crucial; but pointed out that the danger of incorrect analysis of sea-launched missiles makes them worse than ICBMs with a known 'return address.' He continued by stating that silo hardness can be increased to achieve the same level of invulnerability as submarines. This would require enough warheads on the opposing side so as to make a disarming strike impossible. In a 1,000-on-1,000 warhead attack, any diversion of weapons to population or industrial targets weakens the possibility of pre-emption.
Bruce Blair asked the group if either side needed to keep thinking in 'McNamara terms.' He inquired if there have been any fundamental changes in the relationship requirements for nuclear forces?
Romashkin replied that yes, things have changed. We don't call each other adversaries; we trust each other more. However, NATO expansion means we don't trust the United States as much as we did. One would need more warheads to deter China than to deter the United States, but you don't need the 10,000-12,000 warheads Russia currently has. Warfighting has given way, officially, to deterrence.
Blair followed up by asking if there has been a change in Russian thinking about surprise attacks. Since the Russian mobile force is not deployed to cope with a surprise attack, this would cause great instability if a hostile relationship existed between the U.S. and Russia.
Romashkin agreed, noting that the state of the triad in Russia is not what it once was. However, the status of the silo-based force hasn't changed. Russia has fewer operational submarines, and strategic aviation doesn't fly much; this is because the Russians don't expect to be struck and because they don't have the resources to maintain the latter two. More money would make Russia less vulnerable.
With more money, what happens would depend on what the United States does. Even with NATO expansion, as long as Russia receives a commitment on a ban of cruise missiles and tactical weapons in the new states, she would be happy to trust the U.S. However, Poland has stated publicly that it is against changing the nature of NATO, and has openly welcomed the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on its soil.
Aleksey Ovcharenko argued that what was being debated was the priority of land-based versus sea-based weapons, and that this debate was unnecessary; experience has guided us on the question of the 'mix' and will continue to do so. He proposed guiding the discussion back to Bruce Blair's point that Russia is not now very concerned about a sudden strike from the United States. He noted that he was an active soldier, and received posture data; and he felt confident that there would be no war while he was sitting in Cambridge at this conference (laughter). However, as prudent people, Russia takes steps 'just in case,' as does the United States. Some Russian forces, he noted, are presently on high alert, and some subs are at sea at the moment. He pointed out that unlike U.S. forces, Russian subs can fire from dockside; they do not need to be at sea to launch. Thus, comparing U.S. and Russian 'at sea' numbers is inaccurate. In terms of deliverable weapons, the Russian forces are presently more 'available' than at-sea numbers would indicate.
Valeri Yarynych continued by noting that although it is correct that Russia trusts the United States more now than it did during the Cold War, Ted Postol's presentation (on Trident attacks on Russian silos) had given him doubt. The Trident is a threat to C3I, as Bruce Blair has written. If there are gaps in Russian early warning systems, and Trident launches, it might arrive undetected. This possibility is what causes caution. We should take into account the global negative effects of a strike, since they would make the threat of a strike even less credible if they are large. If these effects are small, it makes the situation more unstable.
Ted Postol brought up, in response, his proposal that the U.S. and Russia should share space-based infra-red early warning technologies and data. As for the environmental effects, he referred to his 1986 article on 'superfires' following nuclear attack. Neglecting this effect had caused the U.S. estimates of the damage to population and industrial targets to be understated by approximately a factor of four. Having been involved in nuclear targeting, he stated with experience and conviction that the U.S. planning system has and does consistently underestimate the damage that Russia would suffer in a nuclear exchange. The system does not handle the effects of nuclear war correctly.
On the positive side, however, he also noted that in his experience, decision-makers (as opposed to planners) have consistently exhibited a deep fear of nuclear weapons. It is very dangerous, however, to rely on military planners to recognize environmental damage. It is their job to treat nuclear weapons as a usable option for deterrence purposes.
Jim Goodby referred to Romashkin's mention of a 1,000-1,200 warhead force, and asked if that was his notion of START III levels, or of a further agreement; and asked if he might expand on his notions of folding other nuclear states into the agreement.
Romashkin replied that in his estimation, the 1,000-1,200 warhead level would be difficult to achieve in START III. Such levels will only be attainable by other negotiations after START and that achieving this in 10 years was unlikely, but it might be done in 15 years. Both sides need to work on it. In reference to other nuclear states: at some level, the structure of US and Russian forces will be roughly equal to the combined forces of these other states, should cuts continue. By this point, these states should be actively involved. In his experience, the U.K. and France had indicated that they hadn't even considered joining any talks, and France said that they weren't interested until the U.S. and Russia each came down to 2,000 warheads or thereabouts. As for Israel, Pakistan, etc., perhaps they shouldn't join talks, but perhaps the U.S. and Russia should 'manage their deployments?'
Geoffrey Forden asked to return to the issue of downloading submarine weapons, as Col. Romashkin and Eugene Miasnikov spoke of. He asked for Romashkin's thoughts on the matter. Romashkin replied that he thought banning all MIRV warheads was the proper choice, since single-warhead launchers mean more certainty on the part of the early warning systems of their targets once they're in flight, and the level of threat can be more accurately assessed.
George Lewis noted that the day's discussion had highlighted that how the forces are operated is almost more important than what they look like. In the case of submarines and mobile missiles, even efforts confined solely to operational patterns could dramatically change stability.
Ted Postol stated that the group was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. MIRVs don't matter to reaction decisions based on their target, deception etc. But they are crucial to discussing whether or not a force can afford to ride out an attack.
Romashkin pointed out that the discussion concerned likelihoods, not certainties of survivability. For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States had 200 ICBMs; the USSR had 9. In addition, the United States had IRBMs in Europe, Turkey, etc. The USSR had IRBMs that could only reach Europe. The 50 IRBMs in Cuba didn't shift the balance because of their effect on the numbers; they shifted it because the U.S. military couldn't guarantee that it could pre-emptively destroy all of them.
Robert Wertheim reminded the group that it was a useful exercise to consider how the present situation came about. MIRVs for the United States' submarine launched ballistic missiles were developed because of U.S. concerns about potential Soviet ABM systems. It was our perception that the U.S.S.R. was preparing to deploy many capable interceptors nationwide, and that we would not be able to provide high confidence in warhead penetration of these defenses with decoys or other deceptive countermeasures. Thus, we chose to increase the numbers of warheads on the new Poseidon and later, the Trident SLBMs in a manner that could provide assured penetration by exhausting the most capable defenses. The U.S.S.R. never deployed such defenses, but did more than match the U.S. in numbers of warheads.
What some now see as the most 'dangerous' aspect of Trident -- its capabilities against hard targets -- came from U.S. concerns about not having enough survivable ICBMs to hold at risk the large number of silos that the U.S.S.R. had deployed.
So, misperceptions contributed to creating the present situation, with thousands more warheads than necessary on each side. Today, both sides are trying to reduce the attendant costs and risks of these excessive arsenals. Uncertainty and mistrust led to 'hedging' against worst case scenarios, but we are now building the trust and openness that permits reductions to much lower numbers.
In discussion between Goodby, Romashkin, and Ovcharenko prior to Feiveson's presentation, it was suggested that an attitude such as that of current Russian doctrine, which includes a conception of nuclear deterrence of a conventional attack, leads to a different set of conclusions than if one is looking to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons. "Abolitionists" pose an important issue of whether it is possible to so minimize the threat of nuclear use as to make very low levels possible. The weakness of Russian forces at present may be why the Russians don't accept the possibility of very low levels. Regarding whether or not Russian doctrine indeed says such things, it was noted that it does clearly say that nuclear weapons may be used first if Russian national interests are at stake and if there is a threat to the Russian government.
As has already been noted (by Miasnikov), the forces we have today, and even those we are considering, are generally excessive. McGeorge Bundy's comments regarding the gulf between war planners and politicians' attitudes towards nuclear weapons are still valid. We ourselves sometimes fall into the war planner's attitude, with calculations of first and second strike capability. Really, however, all deterrence requires is a few survivable weapons. Also as already noted (by Miasnikov), if disarmament does not continue forward, there are negative implications for nonproliferation. As emphasized (by Postol) Russia feels that it must be able to launch large numbers of weapons on warning, as does the US. Thus, one goal of deep cuts must be to shift both countries' postures away from this high alert, launch on warning attitude.
About two years ago, a group of us carried out a study of very deep cuts-a blueprint for what deep cuts might look like. We took as our starting point current plans, the "STRATCOM view," which call for the United States to have a START I force of 7,150 warheads (2,480 on alert) which includes 1,800 on bombers (none on alert), 2,000 on ICBMs (all on alert), and 3,264 on SLBMs (480 on alert). The START II force drops to 1,316 on bombers (zero on alert); 500 on ICBMs (all on alert), and 1,640 on SLBMs (480 on alert), for a total of 3,500 (980 on alert). For START III there are 700 on bombers (none on alert), 300 on ICBMs (all on alert) and 1,018 on SLBMs (380 on alert)-a total of 2,000 (680 of which are on alert).
The plan we put forward envisages a U.S. START III deployed force of 700 on bombers, 300 on ICBMs and 1,000 on SLBMs (of which 290 are the only survivable weapons in this force) for a total of 2,000 weapons. The Russians would deploy 448 on bombers, 134 on ICBMs in silos, 370 on mobile ICBMs (74 survivable) and 1,048 on SLBMs (128 of them survivable) for a total of 2,000 warheads of which 200 are survivable. The next round of cuts would bring U.S. bomber based weapons down to 320, eliminate U.S. ICBMs, and reduce the SLBM warhead count to 720 (290 survivable)-a total force of 1,000 warheads. The Russians would retain 50 on bombers, 90 on silo-based ICBMs, 268 on mobile ICBMs (54 survivable) and 592 on SLBMs (96 survivable)-a total force of 1,000 with 150 survivable weapons. Another round of cuts would then bring the US down to 100 on bombers and 96 on SLBMs-200 warheads, of which 24, on the SLBMs, are survivable. The Russians would match that by eliminating silo-based ICBMs and retaining 24 bomber-carried weapons, 80 warheads on mobile missiles (of which 16 are survivable), and 96 warheads on SLBMs (12 survivable) for a total force of 200 weapons of which 28 are survivable.
The key to our approach is to shift forces which are on alert to an off alert posture and to eliminate the more vulnerable systems. But there is a vexing issue of what to do about silo-based ICBMs. Since there is a temptation to keep these vulnerable systems in a launch on warning posture, one argument would be to eliminate them quickly. Yet, if they are eliminated, there are fewer aimpoints for an attack in case of war. One idea is to dealert them so that they can't be kept in a launch on warning status, but their continued existence would still require that they be targets of a first strike. The U.S. STRATCOM might be more comfortable with eliminating them than with dealerting them, however. By START IV, however, we have eliminated these weapons from the U.S. arsenal. At the stage after that, we are down to 200 warheads each-which is still a lot if one considers the damage they can do.
We have also worked out verification schemes for each of the levels described here, which range from counting delivery vehicles to counting actual warheads. By the time you reach very low levels, you may want every warhead to have an ID number, for instance.
Regarding tactical nuclear weapons, one way to handle this issue is to establish a separate ceiling. An alternative is to have a single ceiling and let each country mix and match tactical and strategic weapons within those guidelines. Colonel Romashkin and Professor Diakov both spoke here of deMIRVing sea-based missiles. Jeremy Stone and Paul Warnke wrote a Washington Post editorial on deMIRVing the sea-based force. If we adopted a plan to do this, and included the other nuclear weapon states, START IV forces might look like this: A US force of 500 bomber-based weapons, 150 Minuteman III based weapons, 336 warheads on submarines (14 x 24 x 1); a Russian force of 500 weapons on bombers, 316 on SS-25/27s, and 184 on submarines (3 Typhoons x 20 x 1, 7 Delta IV x 16 x 1, 1 new submarine x 12 x 1); a Chinese force of maybe 200 weapons on bombers, 10 on ICBMs, and 64 on submarines; and 192 weapons on submarines in Europe. The US and Russia each have 1,000 weapons under this option, China has some 264, and Europe has about 200.
Having outlined the direction we might move in, we should consider how quickly we can move. The main constraint to speed is the verification issue. But moving down to low levels is sensible. It will make large scale counterforce attacks impossible and thus eliminate launch on warning. While not abolition, it is a start towards dismantling the nuclear weapons cultures in both countries.
In closing, I'll note that I was struck by Lee Butler's remarks at the Press Club yesterday regarding the costs of nuclear arms. I hope this plan would begin to address and significantly lessen these costs. I agree with Butler that nuclear weapons have overall served us ill.
Feiveson: Returning to the 300 ICBMs that would be retained but de-alerted, there is certainly an argument that lowering numbers of targets will remove justification for higher numbers on the other side. The study group never settled this issue, and the 300 number is a reflection of STRATCOM views, that it is easier to go down gradually than to make a sudden and complete cut.
Russian participants were asked to comment on the time scale and practicality of the approach outlined by Feiveson. Agreement was voiced on the need to move away from launch on warning, but Petr Romashkin raised the question of whether retention of the bombers, which can also be used in this way, is consistent with that goal. Bombers, however, involve no commitment to actual delivery. If they are also off alert, their status is not comparable to the launch on warning policy in regard to silo-based missiles. As long as there is any warning at all, bombers can be dispersed. They are vulnerable to a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack, which is highly unlikely and thus should not guide planning, but which, as the worst case scenario, requires that some weapons that can survive it be maintained.
Valeri Yarynych noted that when we talk of deterrence in hindsight, we must recognize that it was a tool. Today, however, the legacy of nuclear weapons brings with it the legacy of deterrence, which will continue to function even at very low numbers. Feiveson responded that the debate of whether or not we can go to zero should be left until we reach force sizes of about 200.
How fast can reductions be made? Feiveson responded that generally we have been moving at a rate of about five years per stage. It was felt that, from a technical point of view, this rate could be maintained, but the group did not consider the issue in detail.
Lisbeth Gronlund directed the discussion back to the question of the bolt-out-of-the-blue scenario, and a general discussion ensued: Survivability is, after all, a response to such a threat. Yet, as we work on our anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and satellite surveillance capability, we damage the certainty of survivability. While it can be argued that there is a time warp nature to continuing to discuss a possibility of a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack while becoming ever more friendly with each other, for the US at least, there are other reasons for maintaining survivable weapons-such as to avoid constructing crisis decision points for the other side. One reason for maintaining a triad is the chance that technological developments can damage survivability. Further, whether or not either side really considered a bolt-out-of-the-blue possible is questionable. The critical question now is how to ratchet down forces significantly yet in a way that leaves both sides comfortable that they can ride out an attack, thus making a first strike impossible. Each side must have survivable forces and we must continue to build mutual confidence by resolving issues of ASW, distinguishing between submarine technology that supports submarine survivability and ASW. Things other than ASW can be a threat-such as sabotage-and we must consider them as well.
Joshua Handler asked whether there was a real difference in survivability between a MIRVed silo force and an all-submarine force. Some participants argued that it's not just the specific make-up of forces that contributes to vulnerability, but also operational practices. Mutually ratcheting down alert levels and ensuring that re-alerting can be detected by the other side is required and the vulnerability of command systems must also be considered. Others questioned the notion of suggesting that ICBMs could be viewed as survivable weapons, given that so few of those would survive and that they might in the future even be vulnerable to conventional attack-a problem that has no counterpart for submarines. Regarding operational practices, it was argued that de-alerting could bring on a dangerous and unstable race to alert.
Discussion turned to the question of de-MIRVing submarines, specifically whether this was possibly an option for START III consideration and what steps could actually be taken in this direction. The inefficiency of having only one weapon each on Trident missiles was mentioned in this context, although this is technically possible and may be less complicated than closing off tubes. Given the U.S. government position, which is generally unenthusiastic about such concepts, it might be possible to reduce the loading of submarines, but not down to one, in fact, there may be previous treaty language forbidding downloading beyond four.
On proposed warhead ceilings, it was noted that once numbers get down to 1,500/1,000 warheads, the process involves other countries, and new systems. Thus, we may not be able to negotiate something like this in five years and it may be increasingly sensible to retain warheads in reserve. Not having reserve warheads, in contrast, would require a comprehensive and intrusive verification system.
Goodby concentrated on the importance of eliminating nuclear warheads instead of focusing only on delivery systems. Both transparency and irreversibility measures in connection with warhead elimination should be included in future nuclear arms reduction agreements, specifically START III, as was agreed by Clinton and Yeltsin at Helsinki in 1997. Many discussions and negotiations between Russian and American officials took place in 1994-95 on warhead dismantlement issues. These may shed some light on how transparency and irreversibility discussions might proceed in the next few years.
A surprising amount of progress was made in talks at various levels, ranging from the Summit to technical-level analyses, in defining the nature of the problems and finding solutions. After all, the two sides were dealing with issues that were almost completely new to negotiations between Moscow and Washington. Not since the days of the first American disarmament proposal of the nuclear age-the Baruch plan of the 1940s-had the United States suggested that the disposition of non-deployed nuclear warheads become a matter for negotiation between Moscow and Washington. This began to change when President Bush and President Gorbachev decided that a portion of their holdings of sub-strategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons, should be eliminated. It also changed when the United States, during the Bush administration, offered to purchase 500 metric tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from dismantled Soviet nuclear warheads. This offer was put into effect as part of a revenue-sharing arrangement between Russia, Ukraine, and the United States during the Clinton administration in 1994. Ukrainian observers were permitted to oversee the process of dismantling warheads removed from Ukraine to Russia. Americans were permitted to monitor the facility where Russian technicians blended down the HEU to create low-enriched uranium (LEU) for commercial nuclear fuel.
Beginning in 1994, the Clinton administration began to urge Russia to join with the United States in addressing the dismantlement of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. "Transparency and irreversibility" became the stated objectives of the United States with regard to the process of converting nuclear warheads to non-military purposes. The administration was strongly supported in this by the U.S. Senate.
On January 14, 1994, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to establish a Joint Working Group to consider steps to ensure the transparency and irreversibility of the process of reduction of nuclear weapons. The Working Group (Ambassador Goodby was the U.S. chair, a senior official of MINATOM initially chaired the Russian side) readily reached agreement at a meeting in May 1994 that it would:
These terms of reference were reinforced by a September 1994 Summit meeting where the U.S. and Russian presidents agreed to:
Prior to the Yeltsin-Clinton meeting, Under Secretary of State Lynn Davis and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister George Mamedov had met and instructed the Joint Working Group, beginning by March 1995, to:
The Joint Working Group was to report on its progress at the next summit meeting. These instructions were consistent with the previously agreed terms of reference of the working group (the cut-off also had been a part of the terms of reference) and deadlines had been set for reporting progress. The exchange of data called for by the two presidents in their joint statement was even more urgent, however, since the next meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission would be held in Moscow in December 1994.
On the margins of that Commission meeting (where no data was exchanged), Ambassador Goodby handed copies of a "non-paper" on transparency and irreversibility to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, and Ministry of Atomic Energy. The objectives the United States government had in mind were to:
To accomplish these ends, the United States envisaged a transparency and irreversibility regime that, inter alia, would include exchanges of detailed information on aggregate stockpiles of nuclear warheads and stocks of fissile materials; mutual reciprocal inspections to confirm the stockpiles of HEU and plutonium removed from nuclear weapons; a cooperative arrangement to monitor warheads declared excess and awaiting dismantlement; cooperative measures to confirm and clarify reciprocal declarations of fissile material stockpiles, including limited spot-checks at fissile material sites--not including fissile material in weapons or naval fuel, or within naval fuel fabrication; and exchanges of fissile material production records and visits to production sites.
Meanwhile, technical talks were being held between U.S. and Russian experts to work out a method of confirming that dismantled nuclear components of warheads were inside containers destined for storage. On March 16, 1994, U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary and Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Viktor Mikhailov agreed to start work on conducting reciprocal inspections regarding plutonium removed from dismantled nuclear weapons.
At a meeting held in Moscow in May 1994 to define the terms of reference for this study the two sides agreed on a two-step procedure:
The U.S. side also proposed a third step: to negotiate an agreement regarding an overall regime for confirming the inventories of fissile materials from nuclear weapons dismantlement. In addition, the U.S. side suggested that enriched uranium from dismantled nuclear weapons be included in a subsequent study. The Russians replied that these proposals should be presented to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In a familiarization meeting at the Rocky Flats (CO) facility in July 1994, the United States demonstrated, using its own equipment, measurement techniques to:
A subsequent visit to Tomsk-7 was to be followed by the negotiation of a comprehensive monitoring regime, in the U.S. view, but implementing the latter would almost certainly require a U.S.-Russian agreement making it legally possible to proceed with an exchange of certain classified or sensitive information. The Russians believed that a U.S.-Russian agreement to protect any sensitive information exchanged between the two countries was essential, and so stated at a meeting of the Joint Working Group in Moscow in April 1995. Their emphasis from the outset was on protection of information while the United States, basing its position on the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, emphasized that a generic description of what information might be exchanged also should be included in an agreement for cooperation. This difference in emphasis persisted throughout the negotiations.
The other remaining issue involving the agreement for cooperation concerned the scope of the information that might be exchanged. The U.S. side proposed several categories for potential exchanges, believing that this was preferable to amending the agreement each time that the sides agreed on a new area for cooperation. The Russian side favored a more cautious, step-by-step approach. Russian experts on information security visited the United States in September 1994 for on-site briefings on how the United States would protect sensitive information furnished by Russia, and a reciprocal visit to Russia by U.S. security experts took place in January 1995. Both sides were satisfied with what they saw.
As is apparent from this brief history, the U.S. and Russian teams made considerable progress in 1994-95 in working out an agreement to protect sensitive information that might be exchanged pursuant to a transparency and irreversibility regime. They also were far along in designing a system for monitoring plutonium from dismantled warheads destined for long-term storage. The main techniques were agreed to as early as October 1994, following the reciprocal visits to Rocky Flats and Tomsk. An agreement to begin a demonstration of a mutual reciprocal monitoring system had been drafted by the U.S. side and handed to the Russian side. Some progress had been made in exploring how highly-enriched uranium warhead components destined for storage might be monitored. And, of course, a major U.S.-Russian project was the construction of a large facility in the Urals for long-term storage of thousands of dismantled Russian nuclear warheads. The understanding with Russia was that dismantled warheads stored in this facility would never again be used for weapons purposes. A joint U.S.-Russian monitoring arrangement would oversee this arrangement, with the aid of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Monitoring the blending down of highly-enriched uranium from Russian warheads, as required in the context of the HEU purchase, also was underway.
There were two important missing links in the transparency and irreversibility regime discussed between the Americans and the Russians in 1994-95. One was an agreement to share data on nuclear warhead and fissile material inventories. The U.S. side gave the Russian side a draft text of such an agreement in the summer of 1995 but a U.S.-Russian discussion of the text never occurred. Informally, some Russians gave the impression that the scope of the data exchange went well beyond what they were prepared to consider. The categories of data that the United States was ready to discuss included the number of nuclear weapons produced each year over a period of time, together with the type of associated weapon system and production location. In the area of fissile material, the United States suggested sharing data on annual production over a period of years by type, enrichment or grade, and production site. There were several other categories, as well. The United States proposed spot checks as a device for confirming the accuracy of declarations of fissile material stockpiles. The only monitoring affecting nuclear warheads would relate to dismantled warheads. The December 1994 U.S. non-paper had spoken of a reciprocal and evolutionary approach to transparency and irreversibility and, in that spirit, there was a possibility of taking some experimental first steps. The absence of a dialogue on data exchange precluded that in 1995.
The other missing element in a transparency and irreversibility regime was "chain of custody", that is, monitoring warheads declared excess prior to their dismantlement and arrival at the storage site. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to investigate this part of a transparency and irreversibility regime in their joint statement of May 10, 1995. At the level of experts both sides understood that this was what was meant by their agreement to seek to define "intergovernmental arrangements to extend cooperation to further phases of the process of eliminating nuclear weapons". The U.S. non-paper of December 1994 had suggested some additional measures to confirm that materials arriving at storage sites came from nuclear warheads. The United States was not proposing to monitor the actual dismantlement procedure. There was no official-level discussion of this issue in 1994 or 1995.
In the fall of 1995, the Russian government decided to change its negotiating team to place the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge. In addition, the Russians suggested that the site of the U.S.-Russian meetings be shifted from Moscow to either Geneva or Helsinki and that regularly-scheduled meetings be held a few times a year. The idea, apparently, was to place the talks on a more formal footing, rather like the strategic arms talks of previous years. Washington readily agreed to these suggestions, while preferring a more intense work schedule, and the first meeting under the new arrangements was set for late November 1995 in Geneva. The Russians noted that their instructions for this important meeting and the formal confirmation of their appointments to the delegation would be matters for the Russian presidency.
Not long before the scheduled meeting the State Department received a telephone call from the Russians saying that they were not ready for the Geneva meeting. After some weeks of delay, a senior Russian embassy diplomat visited the State Department on January 4, 1996. His message, from Moscow, was that the Russian government was reviewing its policies on transparency and irreversibility. Therefore, he said, no meetings could be scheduled until the policy review had been completed. This was the effective end of the first attempt to work out a transparency and irreversibility regime for the dismantlement of nuclear warheads.
Where do transparency and irreversibility stand today? Ambassador Goodby recommended a sequence of steps to ensure the stability and acceptability of any measures that are employed.
The first option would be to declare that a number of warheads have become excess and to dismantle them. The second option is to agree to the dismantlement of equal numbers of warheads on each side. The third option would be for both nations to dismantle each year the number of warheads that are removed under START I and II. A fourth option is to "fingerprint" or "template" each warhead and catalog its location, type, and other relevant information. This step would make the identification of warheads easier and render breakout more difficult. The fifth possibility would be to agree to maintain an equal number of warheads on each side. This would be the most difficult option on which to reach agreement since it would require very extensive and invasive verification procedures.
Though irreversibility is as important as transparency, it is less often discussed. The United States and Russia are looking at the possibility of making actual changes to the warheads or launchers which would be at least time consuming to reverse. It would also increase confidence on both sides to begin greater consideration of the status of tactical nuclear weapons.
Lajoie presented the status and plans of the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, also known as the Nunn-Lugar program. The CTR program was established in the fall of 1991 to deal with the possible consequences of the disintegration of the Soviet Union for the safety and security of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. This ten year, four billion dollar program is based upon an active dialogue with the Russian government with four main goals in mind. First, the program helped Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazhakstan to become non-nuclear states by aiding in the return of their nuclear warheads to Russia as well as by helping them meet the requirements of START I implementation. The second objective is to prevent proliferation and enhance security in the areas of nuclear weapons storage and transport, long-term storage of fissile materials, and the conversion of nuclear reactors in order to cease their production of plutonium. Third, the CTR helps Russia to meet its CWC obligations by jump-starting the mandated destruction of chemical weapons. Finally, the most important priority of CTR is to aid Russia in the reduction of its strategic missiles and launchers.
In the areas of transportation and safe and secure storage, the CTR program has provided Russia with supercontainers, modified railcars for nuclear weapons transfer, increased the Ministry of Defenses' emergency response capabilities, improved inventory control of the nuclear stockpile and is planning to significantly enhance the security of its nuclear sites. The effectiveness of Department of Defense assistance is currently limited by Russian concerns for security. Because the Russians are unable to share the location of their nuclear sites, the US cannot ship and install all the equipment that is necessary to assure the safety and security of the weapons, requiring the Russian side to accept this responsibility for which it has limited ability. Nevertheless, this has been the most fruitful dialogue in the CTR program.
Three new projects associated with START II and START III have already begun. First, the CTR has set aside money for the operation of shipyard facilities to scrap nuclear submarines. Increased confidence-building measures are necessary to reach this level of US participation in dismantlement procedures; however, the United States has already concluded a contract for the dismantlement of one submarine. Second, the CTR will assist in the dismantling of 96 SS-18 silo launchers. Third, the United States will participate in the elimination of SS-24 and SS-25 solid rocket motors.
Other future CTR projects include the missile dismantlement and rocket fuel storage/conversion of liquid-fueled ICBMs and SLBMs, the elimination of SS-24 and SS-25 mobile launchers, wider involvement in nuclear submarine dismantlement, possible warhead dismantlement assistance and the elimination of Ukraine's heavy bombers. General Lajoie concluded that the CTR is a very useful program but the Russians may not be using it to its full potential. The Russians should be finding new ways to take advantage of U.S. funding while it is available and supported by Congress, yet the Russians have not been forthcoming with information and ideas that would help the CTR find new projects. Moscow is still concerned about releasing closely kept information which the United States is asking Russia to share to facilitate the process. The Russians have indicated they would be less reserved if full reciprocity was in effect. Washington's view is that since the United States is providing aid to Russia to meet its Treaty obligations, reciprocity is not a factor.
Diakov started with the point that while in the US, transparency is an important issue, in Russia it gets little attention, remaining generally confined to a narrow circle of government specialists.
To illustrate the scale of problems related to introducing a transparency regime for warheads elimination it might be reasonable to look at problems related with verification of already reached agreements. Both START treaties deal with a large variety of systems and their numbers, with locations and production sites, and with the fact that both sides continue to retain weapons. This makes verification very complicated. Both sides have developed and implemented a range of means as possibilities for verification of compliance. In spite of these efforts, the verification problem is not solved completely. For example, Russia has reason to suspect that the warhead loading levels of Trident missiles may be higher than reported. Also, in Russia's view, there are concerns with the procedures for eliminating MX missiles, as well as with the final reorientation of B-1 bombers from nuclear to conventional missions. The United States also claims to have concerns in regards to Russia.
In regards to warhead dismantlement, although there are no pledges to do so, both sides are dismantling warheads, Russia having dismantled some 10,000 (1/4 of these strategic) since 1993. According to the Russian-U.S. Agreement of September 1, 1993, 500 tons of highly-enriched uranium derived from nuclear weapons over a period of 20 years will be blended down to low-enriched uranium and sold to the United States to be fabricated into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. In September 1996, the trilateral Russia - U.S. - IAEA agreement on putting excess weapons nuclear materials under the international safeguards was achieved. The implementation of these measures would contribute to establishing a base for making reductions irreversible. The highly-enriched uranium sale was a great success in this context.
Further progress in nuclear arms reduction should include measures to verify dismantlement of nuclear warheads, and the disposition of fissile materials released from weapons. But even though this point is reflected in the Joint Statement On Parameters On Future Reductions In Nuclear Forces made by the US and Russian Presidents at the Helsinki Summit in March 1997, developing and implementing transparency measures for nuclear warheads will be quite a challenging task.
This was demonstrated by a short but quite remarkable cooperative experience of Russia and the U.S. in this area. The importance of ensuring the transparency and irreversibility (T&I) of nuclear weapons dismantlement was reflected in a number of Joint Statements issued by the Russian and US Presidents (the January1994 Summit Joint Statement, the September 1994 Joint Summit Statement, and the May 1995 Joint Summit Statement). The most definitive statement of the measures that the U.S. and Russian Governments agreed to do to promote the achievement of this goal is found in the May 1995 joint statement.
One would think that the implementation of such high-level statements would not meet obstacles, at least ones concerning the organization of the negotiations process. But the result was quite unexpected. At the end of 1995, when the negotiations on these issues were close to a successful outcome, they reached a deadlock. As it is known, the decision for breaking off the talks was taken at the highest level. Several reasons seem to have affected that decision:
Based on the Helsinki Summit's Statement, let's try to speculate what nuclear warhead verification measures would be achievable in START III and to what extent they would correspond to the verification regime needed to respond to the problems emerging in the process of nuclear arms reduction. Evidently, while nuclear weapons remain a key element of national security for both countries, it will be unrealistic to expect that declarations of all nuclear warheads and fissile material stockpiles, verification of these declarations, and comprehensive verification of the nuclear complex activities would be achievable at this stage.
However some progress is possible with respect to strategic warheads. Currently, only the number of deployed strategic warheads is limited and verified in accordance with the treaties. Therefore, we can expect the development and implementation of some additional transparency measures. Apparently, Russia's attitude to the establishment of a transparency regime will be to determine first of all to what extent this regime will reduce the U.S. breakout potential. Also, Russia intends to minimize the costs related to the implementation of a monitoring regime and its operation (introducing a monitoring regime will require essential arrangement work within the MinAtom nuclear weapons complex, at the sites for the strategic reserve stores, at sites for technical maintenance, and at transportation and other sites).
In this context several problems are linked with tactical nuclear weapons. Distinguishing between strategic and tactical warheads is one of them. Other more serious problem are related to the different approaches of the U.S. and Russia with regard to the tactical stockpiles. The United States would like to address the large Russian tactical arsenal and establish one joint limit for strategic and tactical weapons. Russia is not interested in this, because its geo-strategic situation is quite different from that of the United States.
Let us consider then, what might be technically feasible. The three following factors should be taken into account in assessing possible options:
We can see two levels of agreement, a high end and a low end. The minimal level is something that could probably be agreed to by Russia. It might include an information exchange that lists the number of weapons to be dismantled and a total number of weapons materials in the arsenal. Some form of verification would be permitted to ensure that warheads are loaded into storage and gamma ray spectroscopy might be used to look at pits from dismantled warheads that have been loaded into containers. However, since Russia views the question of the pit shape as very sensitive, the Russian side may well melt the material into plutonium ingots.
The maximal level would involve a data exchange, including the numbers of weapons to be dismantled by weapon type and the full amount of weapons material resulting from the dismantlement process. This would not be a concern for those weapons that are being dismantled once and for all, but it is a concern for those that would continue in service. On dismantlement verification procedure, it might include the designation of dismantlement-only facilities which might be controlled with perimeter and portal continuous monitoring or perhaps even inspectors. Warheads would be under watch from removal to dismantlement and the resulting materials might also be tagged.
Lajoie raised the issue of the Russian advantage in warhead production capacity. This asymmetry provided a potential breakout capability and therefore needed to be tracked. Diakov agreed but explained that the difference was due to the shorter service life of Russian nuclear warheads. Russia was working to prolong the service life of its warheads and he predicted that warhead production capacity would become more symmetrical. Eugene Miasnikov added that although more warheads could be produced and uploaded, delivery systems were still needed.
What about the prospects for negotiations on transparency and irreversibility? Diakov replied that although these negotiations had been stopped by political leaders in 1995, Russia was still prepared to discuss these issues. The ministries of defense and foreign affairs were supportive and MINATOM was not opposed to such negotiations. Talks could proceed if the ministries of defense and foreign affairs could convince the Federal Security Service.
Michael Stafford commented that the monitoring measures mentioned by Diakov - such as chain-of-custody tracking of warheads and warhead material, sweeps of the dismantlement room before and after dismantlement, and monitoring of resulting fissile material in storage - were similar to those being considered by the United States. How receptive did Diakov think the Russian government would be to such measures? Diakov said there was little public discussion of warhead dismantlement regimes in Russia, so it was hard to discern government views. The measures he had described were probably the maximum that would be acceptable. The fact that MINATOM is examining the option of converting one or two warhead assembly plants to dedicated dismantlement facilities made him optimistic that they could agree to the sort of measures he had described.
Was Diakov referring to a black box approach or bilateral disclosure of weapons data when he described measures to confirm whether containers held weapon-origin plutonium? Diakov responded that several methods had been discussed by Russian and American governmental experts for determining fissile material characteristics without disclosing sensitive weapons data. They had agreed that gamma ray spectrometry could be used to measure the ratio of Pu-239 to Pu-240 to determine whether the plutonium was weapon-grade. All that needed to be disclosed to monitors was whether the ratio was above or below an agreed threshold. The experts had also agreed on measures to determine mass. Information about the shape of the plutonium pit, however, was considered by both sides to be sensitive, and agreement was yet to be reached on an acceptable means to assess this characteristic without disclosing too much.
Michael Stafford explained the relevance of the plutonium reactor shutdown agreement to discussion of monitoring procedures for warhead transparency and dismantlement. The shutdown agreement puts the U.S. and Russia out of the business of producing weapon-grade plutonium by prohibiting the restart of shutdown reactors and requiring the conversion of operating Russian reactors, and it also prohibits the use in nuclear weapons of all weapon-grade plutonium produced by Russia from the beginning of 1995 until the reactors are converted. It includes an extensive monitoring regime to provide confidence that these commitments are met, and many of these monitoring measures would be transferable to a START III regime for warheads. For example, under the reactor shutdown agreement Russia will regularly declare the amounts of weapon-grade plutonium subject to the agreement that it is storing, and U.S. monitors will regularly visit Russian plutonium storage facilities to confirm these declarations and ensure that the plutonium remains in storage. In a START III warhead regime, we would want similar declarations and monitoring to ensure that materials from dismantled warheads remained in storage and were not recycled into new warheads. Other elements of the reactor shutdown monitoring regime also set a good precedent for START III.
Regarding the sort of warhead monitoring regime the U.S. and Russia should seek in START III, Stafford said they should take the long view of where they were heading. Eventually, whether in START IV or thereafter, the sides would reach a limit on delivery vehicles so low that they would also need to place strict, verifiable limits on warhead stockpiles. This would require an extremely comprehensive and intrusive verification regime for there to be any level of confidence that these limits were being honored. With this in mind, the sides should go as far as they could in START III to lay the groundwork for such a future regime. This meant that they should establish as broad a declaratory and monitoring regime as possible to gain the experience and mutual confidence they would need for the more comprehensive approach in the future.
Did Diakov have any suggestions for new CTR programs? Diakov responded that the U.S. Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense had discussed the CTR during negotiations in November 1997 and that proposals were now being considered regarding the launchers and reactors of nuclear submarines. Geoffrey Forden raised the possibility that to speed up the dismantlement process, the United States and Russia could share some sensitive information (such as gamma ray spectral data) but agree not to disclose such information to a third party, such as China. Diakov said that this depended upon whether the primary concern was verifying dismantlement or acquiring data about warheads. New methods of verification would be needed if both sides thought that warhead design was sensitive information. They should focus on verifying the amount of fissionable material after dismantlement because other components were less important. David Mosher commented that there was widespread skepticism about the ability to verify warheads without disclosing restricted data.
Michael Stafford explained that there were three levels of verifying the contents of a fissile material container: 1) whether the container held weapons-grade plutonium; 2) whether the container held weapons-grade plutonium with the general characteristics of a dismantled nuclear weapon; and 3) whether the item was actually a dismantled nuclear weapon. They were now able to reach the first level and could possibly achieve the second, but he was skeptical about reaching the third. The first level seemed sufficient to enhance confidence in a dismantlement regime, but it would be necessary to reach the second level if they were to actually verify dismantlement.
Steve Fetter emphasized that progress on verification was needed now because the United States and Russian nuclear arsenals were undergoing tremendous change without any transparency measures in place. There remained a reluctance to disclose information that might be exploited in an anti-ballistic missile system or used to improve a weapon's design. However, revealing the isotopic composition of warheads would not compromise U.S. or Russian security and, with the comprehensive nuclear test ban in place, new designs would be difficult to develop. This attitude toward sensitive information needed to be changed and the emphasis should be on greater transparency rather than secrecy. Diakov agreed and said Russian designers believed that it was possible to share pit data. However, the United States was also working to preserve its capability to design weapons and there remained considerable mistrust between the two sides.
Bruce Blair argued that they needed to gain experience in warhead accounting and it would take a decade to be confident in these verification systems. Such confidence would be needed to move to a START IV regime that included tactical weapons (which the U.S. would insist upon). He wondered, however, whether they had reached the point where they had to solve the problem of monitoring warheads or whether further reductions could be made focusing on delivery systems.
Joshua Handler observed that the United States had many reasons for increased transparency and irreversibility but the Russian interest in this seemed unclear. Paul Podvig responded that there was no interest on the Russian side because greater transparency would not address the problem of upload potential. The United States seemed to be linking these issues to START III but it would be better to address them separately. The problems with START I and II should be dealt with first, which would also require progress on START III. From there, it would be easier to move forward on transparency and irreversibility issues. Eugene Miasnikov said that Russia would be interested in transparency measures that addressed the breakout potential problem, like Ambassador Goodby's proposal on the elimination of downloaded warheads. There would be a problem in this area as Minutemen and Trident warheads were eliminated under START I. Moreover, it would be difficult to eliminate sea-launched cruise missiles since they were dual capable. It would therefore be necessary to eliminate the nuclear warheads of these missiles.
Steve Fetter agreed that negotiations on delivery vehicles and transparency
should move forward on separate tracks, but that they needed to move quickly.
Russia should be interested in transparency not only to limit breakout
potential, but also to secure additional resources from the CTR program
for the costs of dismantling weapons. Michael Stafford agreed that Russian
receptivity to transparency measures would likely create opportunities
for additional U.S. financial support under the CTR program. Aleksey Ovcharenko
believed that the transparency issue could not be separated, especially
if Russia and the United States agreed to negotiate a START III treaty
because START III would have to deal with the problem of breakout potential.
Paul Podvig thought there were easier ways to solve this problem than transparency
For more information, please, contact Prof. Theodore Postol (617-253-8077, U.S.A.) or Prof. Anatoli Diakov (095-408-6381, Russia).