Return to

October 22, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

START 'cheating'
Republicans in the Senate are gearing up to battle the Obama administration over the high-priority plan to finish a new arms-control treaty with Russia before the end of the year.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and No. 2 Republican Senate leader, recently identified a key issue that is likely to complicate the administration's plan: Russia for years has been violating the current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is set to expire Dec. 5.

Mr. Kyl said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 19 that Russia's development of a new multiple-warhead RS-24 missile that was tested as recently as May 2007 violates the current treaty.

"That would be illegal for the Russians to deploy under START. So why are they testing it?" Mr. Kyl asked.

"In this case, it appears the Russians have cheated - if not in the letter of the START agreement, at least in its spirit - by converting one of their existing missiles, the Topol-M, to this new multiple-warhead variant," he said. The new missile is also known as the SS-27 by the Pentagon.

The argument of Mr. Kyl and others concerned with the administration's rush to conclude a new treaty is over how a new agreement can be reached when there is evidence that the Russians failed to abide by the old one.

However, Richard R. Verma, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, stated in a Oct. 5 letter to Mr. Kyl that he could not answer many questions posed by the senator because of ongoing negotiations in Geneva.

Mr. Verma stated that the administration has "committed ourselves fully" to finishing a new treaty by Dec. 5. "If a follow-on treaty cannot be concluded by December, the United States and Russia will need to find a mutually acceptable means to continue essential verification and transparency measures until a new treaty enters into force," he said, noting that a five-year extension of the old treaty is not likely.

Russian Embassy press spokesman Yegeni Khorishko said: "The Russian Federation is acting in full conformity with the provisions of the START treaty."

The senator's charge of treaty violations is backed up by a 2005 annual report to Congress by the State Department's bureau of verification and compliance which states that "a significant number of longstanding compliance issues that have been raised in the START Treaty's Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission remain unresolved."

Mr. Kyl is demanding that the administration tell the Senate if the Russian violations continued after 2005, or have been resolved, and also why no subsequent compliance reports were made public.

He also wants to know if the new agreement will be submitted to the Senate, which has the constitutional requirement to approve all treaties.

Either way, Mr. Kyl said it appears unlikely the United States and Russia will conclude a new treaty limiting U.S. nuclear warheads by the time the 1991 pact expires.

Russia has been demanding that the United States include missile defenses and conventional prompt-global-strike systems in the new agreement, something the administration so far has refused.

Paula A. DeSutter, the former assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, who stepped down in January, told Inside the Ring that Russian noncompliance with START continued after 2005.

"The more recent compliance report, when it does go to the Senate and House, will be disturbing in a lot of ways because Russia continues to be in violation of the START treaty," said Ms. DeSutter, who helped write post-2005 reports. Between 2005 and 2009, the Russians have "become more cooperative with regard to re-entry vehicle on-site inspection," she said. However, "they remain in noncompliance on a whole range of START treaty issues."

On the new missile, Ms. DeSutter said the Russian military has conducted tests of the RS-24 that demonstrated the capability of carrying three multiple-independently targetable (MIRV) warheads, but without actually putting dummy warheads on the test missile.

A Senate Republican aide said the Russians have been developing the new missile in secret for years. "Essentially what's happening is they've got a missile ready to field as soon as START expires," said the aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the complex START treaty has been in force for 15 years and "some questions about implementation have arisen on both sides."

"The United States and Russia have been working hard to clear up START compliance questions before the treaty goes out of force," he said.

Overall, however, general implementation of the treaty was "a success" and contributed to U.S. national security, while assisting in understanding Russian forces.

"This administration is working hard to complete the 2009 compliance report, incorporating information from 2006, 2007 and 2008, when the report was not produced," he said. "We will certainly be briefing the Senate on it when it is completed."

Mr. Crowley said the administration is working on options for dealing with the interim between treaties. "But our focus is on getting the new treaty finished." He did not elaborate.

"Clearly, neither we nor Russia would undertake any activities to increase our strategic forces or undermine strategic stability during any short gap there might be in transparency provisions," he said.

Chinese nukes
Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said in a speech this week that U.S. officials are frustrated by the failure to develop a dialogue with China on nuclear weapons.

"I will tell you that I think one of the frustrations that the U.S. side has had for several years now, not simply in this administration, is that we have had a desire to have a deeper dialogue between American and Chinese friends exactly about the purposes of their force modernization and the direction that modernization has taken."

The Obama administration currently is working on a nuclear-posture review to examine the current and future nuclear arsenal, and Mr. Campbell said China "will feature importantly."

"I think you will see that [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates and others, [undersecretary of Defense] Michele Flournoy at the Pentagon, will over the course of the next little while make a pitch for a deeper dialogue between our two sides about these issues," Mr. Campbell said.

"I think we have to recognize that as a growing ... power, China will have military ambitions, but I think it is incumbent upon Chinese friends to be much clearer and much more open not just with the United States, but with surrounding neighbors ... about what their goals and ambitions are."

China has balked at holding substantive discussions on its nuclear-weapons program, which is currently being built up with at least three new strategic nuclear-missile systems - the mobile DF-31, DF-31A ICBMs, and the submarine-launched JL-2.

Mr. Campbell also said he believes global climate change could prove to be the most serious national-security threat in the years ahead.

"I think that the most important national-security challenge that we may face over the course of the next 20 to 30 years may turn out to be climate change," Mr. Campbell said. "I don't think that there is enough of a recognition that climate change is not just a humanitarian issue, it's not simply an issue associated with energy security. It is a national-security issue. It will trigger the very kinds of things that we have to respond to on a regular basis."

Mr. Campbell spoke Oct. 19 at a conference hosted jointly by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Project 2049 Institute, an Asian affairs research institute.

He said during the presidential transition earlier this year Navy officials were "extremely excited by some aspect of climate change because large parts of the Arctic will melt and so a whole new class of submarines" would be needed.

"So after about an hour I said, 'You know, guys, [that's] very interesting stuff, but you do realize that if you're seeing this amount of melt that, you know, all of Florida, much of the United States will be underwater, a huge environmental catastrophe.' "

Mr. Campbell said a senior admiral told him melting ice caps are possible but "all this flooding, that's all completely uncertain, that hasn't been proved."

"So my simple statement is I do think that some of the challenges that are completely unrelated to military power, the path and pace of democratization, issues associated with a focus elsewhere on the globe could be completely overwhelmed by the path and pace of global climate change unless it is addressed going forward," he said.

Still, Mr. Campbell noted that military friction between the United States and China is expected in the years ahead. Both nations need to promote "strategic reassurance," to avoid military confrontation, he said. The new term was first used recently by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Mr. Campbell called for holding a more comprehensive dialogue with China. "Over the course of the next several years, decades, it is inevitable that China's going to become a more active player in a variety of military fields, and as a consequence, they're going to rub up more closely against forward-deployed American assets," he said.

Efforts to develop "rules of the road" with China have been insufficient, and the rules are needed to help identify "red lines," he said. Military exchanges with China are not enough, and Mr. Campbell said he favors a "more comprehensive security dialogue that involves not just the men and women in uniform, but has a broader context and contour between our two organizations and our two societies."

Mr. Campbell, a former Pentagon Asia policymaker, said the debate on whether to keep the large U.S. military presence in the Asia Pacific region is over. "One of the things that I note among the strategic community is I think in many respects that debate has passed and I think there are large commitments politically to sustain this enormous capability that's been created and sustained over the years," Mr. Campbell said.

Earlier, Aaron L. Friedberg, a Princeton University professor and former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, warned that the future of U.S.-Chinese relations are unpredictable and will depend on whether China remains a dictatorship or evolves into a more democratic system.

"At present, I think it's fair to say that the Sino-American relationship is profoundly mixed," Mr. Friedberg said. "It contains important elements of both competition and cooperation."

Mr. Friedberg noted that unlike the conventional wisdom, "the competitive aspects of the relationship are in fact deeply rooted."

"They're not merely the result of misperceptions or misunderstandings or policy errors, although these do contribute on both sides," he said. "They are instead, I believe, the product of two fundamental futures of the contemporary international system."

Spying on Qom
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was in Texas Wednesday and praised the efforts of the U.S. high-technology imagery intelligence gathering community, both government and private contractors, in finding Iran's secret nuclear facility at Qom.

"You can step back and look at the big picture, look at the forest," Mr. Blair said during a speech in San Antonio at a conference on geospatial intelligence or GEOINT, as it is known.

"And that's really what GEOINT is," he said. "You can zoom down on the trees and in fact you can zoom down on the weeds."

"If a tree falls in the forest you and no one hears it, you all can take a picture of it," Mr. Blair said. "And you have the evidence. You can look and see if guys like [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il are feeling well or left the garage doors open."

Mr. Blair said among the top priorities for U.S. spy agencies is focusing on "leadership intentions" of adversaries - both nations and groups.

"And the key here is integrated collection strategies in which we take our most sensitive, our most advanced systems, we put them together and we direct them toward providing the best intelligence we can to support these key policy decisions."

A recent example was intelligence work in identifying the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Qom, which is built into a mountain.

"We have been watching through various intelligence means this site for a while, and it's no secret that if you're keeping an eye on the building of a large structure, GEOINT is right there at the heart of keeping you informed and understanding what's going on."

Mr. Blair said satellite and other photos of the site were combined with other intelligence derived from both human and technical sources so that "we had a good picture ready when the moment turned, as it did at the U.N. General Assembly this year, and the president decided, with the cooperation of other allies, to make public the fact of this previously hidden and undisclosed centrifuge facility that Iran was building against several U.N. Security Council resolutions...."

Return to