Failure to Report

House leaders seek GAO probe of State Department failure to report Russian nuclear missile treaty violations

Vladimir Putin / AP
March 21, 2014

Two senior House leaders on Friday requested an investigation by Congress’ General Accountability Office (GAO) into the State Department’s failure to report Russian violations of a 1987 nuclear missile accord.

"It is clear from my subcommittee's oversight that the administration did not fully disclose what it knew about Russian arms control violations when it was trying to get the New START treaty ratified," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.

"Its all-consuming drive to protect its Russia reset policy has gutted our missile defenses, alienated allies, and only encouraged Vladimir Putin's lawlessness," he said in a statement.

Rogers, along with Rep. Ted Poe (R., Texas), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade, asking in a letter to GAO director Gene Dodaro that his office conduct a probe assessing the State Department Bureau for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance for its reporting on compliance concerns related to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Russia from from 2008 through 2010.

"We are concerned that the Bureau … did not provide complete information when informing the Senate and the House … of compliance concerns," the congressmen stated in the March 21 letter.

The probe sought by Rogers and Poe asked GAO to examine the procedures used by the State Department for including or excluding information in the legally required annual report on arms control compliance issues.

The congressmen want to know what information was known by the compliance office on Russian INF violations between 2008 and December 2010.

They also asked what considerations went into combining the verification and compliance bureau into a single bureau from two entities in 2010.

Congress initially mandated that arms negotiators be separate from those responsible for check compliance with arms treaties. The Obama administration combined the functions into one office in a move critics say allowed them to ignore treaty violations by foreign signatories.

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

The letter grew out of recent disclosures that Russia violated the INF treaty by developing a new missile with a range banned under the 1987 pact. The treaty bans building or testing missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

"The Russians have basically violated every major treaty they’ve ever entered into, certainly every major weapons treaty," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees and co-leader of a Senate arms control group.

Rubio said during a meeting at the Heritage Foundation Feb. 25 that State Department officials have dismissed Moscow’s arms violations by asserting that continuing to hold talks was more important than pressing the Russians to abide by agreements.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported June 25 that Russia violated the INF treaty by flight-testing a new RS-26 long-range missile, also known as Yars M, to INF range.

Then the New York Times reported in January that a new ground-launched cruise missile, the R-500, violates the INF treaty and that tests of the missile had been carried out since 2008.

The newspaper reported that Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s senior arms control official has held discussions with Russian officials on the treaty violation since May and was rebuffed by Moscow.

The treaty violations threaten to further undermine the administration’s arms control-center national security policies.

The administration has made the 2010 New START arms treaty a centerpiece of such polices and is seeking further talks on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the department for security affairs and disarmament at the Russian Ministry of Foreign, said Russia would not disclose information on the location of its non-strategic nuclear weapons or their numbers. Ulyanov said revealing the information would "help terrorists." Regarding calls by the United States to cut tactical nuclear weapons, Ulyanov said the topic is "contrived and exaggerated."

Additionally, Ulyanov said U.S. plans to expand missile defenses could prompt Moscow to withdraw from the New START treaty.

The State Department’s latest annual compliance report made no mention of Russia’s INF treaty noncompliance. Instead, the report said U.S. and Russian officials last met in a special verification commission on the treaty in October 2003 and that "there were no issues raised during this reporting period."

However, the report states in its introduction that the period of information in the report covered arms compliance issues between Jan. 1, 2012 and Dec. 31, 2012, a period U.S. officials say included discussions between senior U.S. officials, including Gottemoeller, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Congressional officials suspect the INF violations are being ignored as part of the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring treaty compliance in favor of further arms negotiations.

The Rogers-Poe letter requesting the GAO probe followed a similar letter Rogers sent to President Obama in February that said there is compelling evidence Russia is "in material breach and circumvention" of the INF treaty. Other signers of that letter included Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.) and Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.). McKeon is Armed Services Committee chairman and Royce head of the Foreign Affairs Committee.