When President Obama, in June 2013, announced his agenda for the next round of nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia, he failed to mention what he had included in his Prague speech of 2009: arms control compliance. Shortly after, the State Department sent a report to the Congress on compliance with arms control agreements that totally whitewashed Russian compliance behavior.
There has recently been a focus on the issue of Russian compliance with the INF Treaty due to the testing and the announced near-term deployment of the new Rubezh missile. Both former Undersecretary of State John Bolton and former Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter have characterized the Rubezh missile as an "apparent violation" of the INF Treaty, saying that all three of the successful launches went to INF range. (The INF Treaty prohibited all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500-km and 5000-km.)
Bill Gertz, writing in The Washington Times and the The Washington Free Beacon, states that an intelligence community official told him, "'The intelligence community believes it's [Rubezh] an intermediate-range missile that [the Russians] have classified as an ICBM because it would violate the INF treaty' if its true characteristics were known…" The Russian press also reports that the missile has a mission of intermediate-range strike, although without the compliance commentary. Sergei Rogov, for example, a well-known Russian expert of international affairs, characterized the Rubezh as a "reduced range" ICBM designed to carry "out missions to destroy targets in the European theater." A Russian military publication stated that although the Rubezh was classified as an ICBM "its actual destination, [is] as [a] medium-range ballistic missile (IRBM)."
At a minimum, the missile is a major circumvention of the INF Treaty, as well as a possible violation of the INF Treaty, the New START Treaty or both. There is also a possibility that two different missiles are being tested under the Rubezh program: a Russian press report states that in the third successful test "evidently only a single stage was being tested." A single stage missile is unlikely to be able to fly to ICBM range, as the Russians claimed regarding the first successful test.
The Russian Defense Ministry admits that the second and third test went to INF range. This is a clear indication of the intent behind the missile -- to target at INF ranges.
The arms control enthusiast community, however, is now claiming there is no problem with Russian compliance with the INF Treaty. Pavel Podvig, a Russian émigré who specializes in Russian strategic systems, suggests that the missile is not a violation of the INF Treaty because it really is a Bulava 30 SLBM that was flown to just barely ICBM range in the first flight. Podvig has identified a possible launcher for the Rubezh; he says it could launch the Bulava 30 SLBM but is too small for the Russian Yars ICBM. He may be correct that the Rubezh "ICBM" is the Bulava 30 SLBM launched from a new mobile ICBM launcher. There is Russian open source evidence of this beyond what he cites. There is, however, one small problem with his defense of Russian compliance behavior, that the Bulava 30 established itself as an ICBM in its first launch in May 2013. If he is correct about the missile being the Bulava 30, the Russians have just violated the New START Treaty:
If a Bulava 30 SLBM has been launched from a mobile ICBM launcher, it would be a violation of Article IV, paragraph 2 of the New START Treaty, which mandates that, "Each Party shall install deployed launchers of SLBMs only on ballistic missile submarines." The announced deployment date of the mobile Rubezh is 2013.
In an attempt to defend Russian compliance behavior, Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of the American Scientists states that "several Russian government, military, and industry officials have consistently stated that the Yars-M is not a new missile but a modification of the RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) and that it has intercontinental range." This is certainly true about the Yars but not the Yars-M. While there is circumstantial evidence that the Russians called the missile the Yars-M before they called it the Rubezh, Russian officials were actually quite reticent about describing the new missile. The Russian government has consistently said that the missile is a new mobile ICBM that makes maximum use of existing components.
However, if the new missile is a Yars-M, it still does not get the Russians off the noncompliance hook. It just means they have modified a missile that violated the START Treaty in order to circumvent the INF Treaty.
The Yars is a MIRVed version of the single warhead ICBM the Russians call the Topol M Variant 2, and which we call the SS-27 Mod 1. A MIRVed version of the SS-27 (the Mod 2) constitutes a violation of the START Treaty because, under the START Treaty, it was attributed by the Russians with a single warhead. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Yars version of the SS-27 was tested with MIRVed warheads while the START Treaty was legally in effect. Article V paragraph 12(B) of the START Treaty prohibits "flight-test[ing] an ICBM or SLBM with a number of reentry vehicles greater than the number of warheads attributed to it…" Thus, this is a clear START Treaty violation.
A Topol M mobile missile launcher. (Source: Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
There are actually a string of arms control violations concerning ICBMs the Russians call the Topol. The Topol M version, which we call the SS-27 Mod 1, was held by the Clinton administration to violate the verification provisions of the INF Treaty. (It was produced at the Votkinsk missile plant, which at the time was subject to monitoring under both the INF and START Treaties.) The version of the Topol M, that we call the SS-25, was determined by the Reagan administration to be a violation of the SALT II Treaty's prohibition on more than one new type of ICBM. The predecessor of the SS-25 ICBM, the SS-16 mobile ICBM, was also held by the Reagan administration to be a probable violation of SALT II's prohibition on the deployment of the SS-16. (Russian generals have apparently forgotten about these legal problems. In discussions of the history of their mobile ICBM program, they began to talk several years ago about the deployment of the SS-16.)
The Rubezh is not the only potential Russian violation of the INF Treaty. There are numerous Russian press reports which say that the Russian R-500 ground-launched cruise missile has a range of 1,000-3,200-km, which, if true, would also violate the INF Treaty. There is, in addition, a report that Russian missile defense interceptors and surface-to-air missiles have a secondary role of attacking ground targets with nuclear warheads. If so, Russia would be in violation of the INF Treaty since the day it went into effect in 1988. Both Podvig and Kristensen simply ignore these issues.
Russian arms control violations are really quite pervasive. The commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Force has stated that by 2021, 98% of the Russian ICBM force will be modernized. Assuming he is correct about the timing, in 2021 at least 98% of the Russian ICBM force will be composed of missile types that violate legally-binding arms control commitments.
In April 2013, Congressmen Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA.), Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, and Mike Rogers (R-MI), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to President Obama, noting that they twice expressed "concerns about a massive Russian violation and circumvention of an arms control obligation to the United States of great significance to this nation and to its allies." They indicated that, "Briefings provided by your Administration have agreed with our assessment that Russian actions are serious and troubling, but have failed to offer any assurance of any concrete actions to address these Russian concerns." Thus, the current U.S. administration is apparently saying different things in classified briefings and in its unclassified compliance reports. Moreover, it is clear from the current Administration's unclassified compliance report that none of the INF issues has been raised with Russia. The 2013 Obama compliance report and its predecessors state: "The Parties to the Treaty last met in the Special Verification Commission in October 2003. There were no issues raised during this reporting period."
In June 2013, 24 Senators signed a letter drafted by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to Secretary of State John Kerry stating they will be watching, "Russia's compliance with its arms control commitments to the United States. Specifically, we will seek assurances from the administration that Russia is in compliance with its nuclear arms control agreements and obligations, including the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) agreed to by President George H.W. Bush and President Boris Yeltsin, and its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty obligations as the United States defines those obligations."
There is substantial evidence in the Russian press of Russian noncompliance with the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives. In November 2012, in fact, the State Department's International Security Advisory Board observed, "Russia is not believed to have fulfilled all of their unilateral pledges" under the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives. There is, further, open source evidence that Russia has conducted very low yield nuclear tests, despite its announced moratorium on nuclear testing and supposed commitment to the CTBT, which was to have created a legal obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of the Treaty.
In July 2013, Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces said, "Based on the most recent arms-control compliance report, it appears, yet another year is passing while the president will ignore significant Russian cheating — let me say that again, Russia is cheating on a major treaty with the United States — so that he can propose further reductions with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin." This is a quite credible explanation of current U.S. policy.
The last honest State Department compliance report, released during the George W. Bush administration, concluded, "The United States judges that Russia is in violation of its CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention] obligations because its CWC declaration was incomplete with respect to declaration of production and development facilities, and declaration of chemical agent and weapons stockpiles," and, "The United States judges based on all available evidence that Russia continues to maintain an offensive BW program in violation of the [Biological Weapons] Convention." Both of these conclusions have been watered down by the current U.S. administration.
Furthermore, in June 2013, an official Russian government news agency, in an article on Russian defense procurement, noted the humorous names given to Russian weapons. The problem, however, is more than questionable humor: the list included "the MS-24 "Laska" ["Tenderness"] 240-mm rocket-propelled chemical round." So much for the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The sad reality is that the Russians, repeating past Soviet practice, consistently disregard obligations that hinder them in achieving their military goals. Russia knows from experience that penalties imposed by the United States for noncompliance are rare. Thus, the implications of Russian cheating for future strategic nuclear arms control are quite stark.
The current U.S. administration's New START Treaty is the worst strategic arms control agreement since Ronald Reagan fundamentally changed our approach to arms control in the 1980s. Compared to the START Treaty, New START has major loopholes and a seriously degraded verification regime. New START is grievously flawed; it is a terrible base upon which to negotiate a new treaty that seeks even deeper cuts in our nuclear arsenal. Yet in his June 2013 Berlin speech, President Obama announced his intent to cut U.S. deployed warheads by up to one-third. He wants to negotiate a new agreement with Russia, but on the day the President made his speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected further nuclear cuts. Notably, it is not clear if President Obama will make unilateral reductions.
Putin's rejection of the President's proposal may be a good thing because of the unacceptable pre-conditions the Russians have set even to begin negotiations, and because the President has signaled a preemptive retreat on his post-New START agenda.
In his Berlin speech, President Obama also changed U.S. policy with regard to tactical nuclear weapons limitations in a fundamental way. Until then, the administration's position was to seek limits involving further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons, limits on all non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons and all non-deployed nuclear weapons. The President's Berlin speech changed the policy to: "At the same time, we'll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe."
This is a policy that, if the Russians had proposed it, any previous U.S. administration would have rejected. Reductions in the number of deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe will not reduce the threat to Europe or the Middle East or Asia, for that matter. As the range of tactical nuclear delivery systems is often thousands of kilometers, tactical nuclear weapons can easily be moved into Europe. Moreover, it represents no limit on the total number of tactical nuclear weapons. The current ten-fold Russian advantage, thousands vs. hundreds, according to then-senior White House official Gary Samore in 2011, will be preserved.
The current administration's Berlin proposal is not in the U.S. national interest: it provides for an inadequate number of weapons for deterrence and extended deterrence. The administration's number (about 1,000 warheads) is close to that contained in the "Global ZERO" report which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel co-authored. Global ZERO's targeting plan uses at least 945 warheads, and possibly 1,025. The number of warheads proposed in the Global ZERO report is severely inadequate for implementing its own targeting strategy. It does not target most military assets, and has no defense-suppression -- attacking Russian air and missile defense to enhance the probability of our missiles and bombers reaching their targets -- or targeting of communications facilities.
Moreover, the proposed up-to one-third cut in deployed strategic nuclear weapons will leave the U.S. vulnerable to Russian air and missile defenses. Russia is now deploying an "aerospace defense" system the announced purpose of which involves defense against ballistic missiles including ICBMs and SLBMs, bombers, cruise missiles and hypersonic vehicles. Russia is currently deploying the S-400 which will have these capabilities, except for the ability to intercept ICBMs. Russia is planning 56 battalions of S-400.
Improved capabilities, including defense capabilities against ICBMs, will be provided by the S-500 systems' ten battalions, which are supposed to be operational by 2020. According to the Chief of the Russian Federation Air Force Air Defense, Major-General Viktor Gumennyy, "The primary mission of the [S-500] complex is to combat the warheads of medium-range ballistic missiles and if necessary also of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the terminal phase and, within familiar limits, in the midcourse phase." A new ABM-235 system will also be deployed at Moscow.
Noted Russian experts estimate that the planned Russian Aerospace Defense System could reduce U.S. damage expectancy against Russian targets to 10%, meaning that only 10% of targeted facilities would actually be hit. Strangely, a similar assessment even is buried in footnote 12 of the "Global ZERO" report. In a related development, China has also announced its intention to pursue missile defense, and has successfully tested an interceptor.
Arms control enthusiasts rationalize the 1,000 warhead number by often asserting that it allows for "Mutual Assured Destruction." Yet President Obama, like his predecessors, has specifically rejected minimum deterrence or countervalue targeting. The number and types of weapons we need relate to our actual strategy, which the current administration has just announced is targeting military targets while attempting to minimize damage to civilian facilities, and not to a hypothetical capability to slaughter civilian populations.
The current U.S. proposal would create a major nuclear disparity in Russia's favor. In addition to the tactical nuclear weapons imbalance, New START has many loopholes that Russia will certainly exploit and the U.S. will not. Russia's stated objective, since December 2010, has been to increase the number of its deployed nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles.
As part of a comprehensive modernization program, which includes a new heavy ICBM, Russia has also announced the development of a rail mobile ICBM, and there is a press report of a decision to deploy it by 2020, along with a new stealthy heavy bomber in about 2025. Rail mobile launchers are not even mentioned in the New START Treaty, and the definition of mobile launcher does not cover them. In fact, the START definition of mobile ICBM launcher was rewritten in New START to exclude rail mobile ICBMs. Russia believes, quite rightly, that they are not covered by the New START Treaty. Under New START, heavy bombers are counted as one warhead, even if they carry twenty or more weapons. Thus, Russia will have far more nuclear warheads than the nominal number of 1,550 warheads permitted in New START. The same is likely to be the situation in any new arms control agreement built on New START. The Obama administration reportedly intends to circumvent Congressional approval of its proposed post-New START agreement -- a clear indication of how bad they expect the negotiated outcome to be.
Perhaps the strongest argument against a new strategic arms control agreement with Russia is the virtual certainty that Russia will violate it. It is now clear that Russia is in noncompliance with major arms control treaties and the current U.S. administration is ignoring these violations.
President Reagan noted in 1982 the importance of arms-control treaty compliance; he stated, "Simply collecting agreements will not bring peace. Agreements genuinely reinforce peace only when they are kept. Otherwise, we are building a paper castle that will be blown away by the winds of war." It is a fundamental reality to which the current administration appears oblivious.
© National Institute for Public Policy, 2013