Hold on New START

House votes to limit implementation of New START arms pact with Russia

President Obama wants to be taken seriously / AP
June 17, 2013

The House last week voted to restrict implementation of the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia until the Obama administration outlines its plans for nuclear cuts.

The restriction is contained in the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill that passed the House on Friday by a vote of 315 to 107.

Section 1052 of the bill limits the Pentagon and Energy Department from spending any funds on nuclear forces reduction until two conditions are met.

The limits would be lifted only after the Pentagon submits a plan required in law that outlines strategic nuclear cuts under New START.

Additionally, all START arms cuts would be placed on hold until President Barack Obama certifies to Congress that any future strategic arms cuts would be carried out through a formal Senate-ratified treaty or agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry said during his Senate nomination hearing in January that a future arms accord with Russia could be carried out as an executive agreement that would not be submitted to the Senate for ratification. The administration is said to be planning for an executive accord as a way to avoid a future Senate ratification fight on the next arms agreement.

The legislation, which must be combined in the future with a Senate defense bill in conference, would allow exceptions to the ban for cuts made to ensure the safety, security, reliability, and credibility of nuclear weapons stocks and strategic delivery systems, or nuclear warheads that are retired or awaiting dismantlement.

The New START accord calls for the United States and Russia to reduce deployed nuclear warhead stockpiles to 1,550 warheads. After the treaty went into effect in February 2011, it was disclosed that Russia had already cut its arsenal below that level, making the arms treaty a unilateral U.S. disarmament agreement.

Disclosure of the congressional limits on New START implementation comes as Obama said on Monday that he discussed future strategic arms cuts during his meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We had a discussion about the fact that, as two nuclear superpowers, we have a special obligation to try to continue to reduce tensions, to build on the work that we did with New START, and to lead the world in both nuclear security issues and proliferation issues," Obama said after the meeting.

U.S. officials said the president plans to make further concessions to Russia on U.S. missile defense plans in Europe as a way of gaining Moscow’s support for a new round of arms reduction talks.

The president is close to approving a new Pentagon study, called the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, that will call for reducing nuclear arsenals to as low as 1,000 warheads.

Putin made no mention of further strategic arms cuts in his remarks to reporters.

However, a Russian official told state-run news agencies last week that three agreements were expected to be signed at the G8 summit.

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said Friday that the two leaders were expected to discuss missile defense, nuclear disarmament, and arms proliferation.

"All these fundamental issues require joint, coordinated decisions; and unilateral actions in the sphere of strategic stability are inadmissible," he said. "Russia and the USA intend to continue a constructive dialogue on all relevant aspects of international security."

Russia is engaged in a major strategic arms buildup that includes new long-range missiles, including a 10-warhead mobile ICBM designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses and new ballistic missile submarines.

The defense bill also would prohibit the Obama administration from transferring to Russia advanced missile defense technology.

House Republicans have sought to prevent the administration from sharing missile defense know-how with Russia as part of its efforts to assuage Moscow’s opposition to European-based missile defenses.

The bill would prohibit the transfer of "hit-to-kill" missile defense techniques as well as any missile defense telemetry—data transmitted from missiles in flight during tests to ground monitors.

That provision was added following the disclosure last month by Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), who said he was asked by the Obama administration about sharing sensitive missile defense data with Russia as part of talks over the past several years aimed at reaching a missile defense cooperation agreement.

A fact sheet released by the House Armed Services Committee on the bill said Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.) backed the strategic arms provisions  "in order to maintain America’s vital strategic edge."

"This bill makes vital investments to repair our crumbling readiness, ensures our troops have the support and benefits they deserve and have earned, and institutes reforms designed to stamp out the incidents of sexual assault within the ranks," McKeon said after House passage.

No similar provisions are contained in the Senate version of the defense bill, which was marked up by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.

Expressing its concerns about further nuclear cuts, the House report on the defense bill states that strategic nuclear delivery vehicles cannot be cut below 800 missiles and bombers "unless the president certifies a treaty has entered into force or an international agreement made pursuant to an affirmative act of Congress has entered into force and such agreement includes significant and proportional reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation," the report said.

The president also is required to certify that Russia is complying with its nuclear arms control obligations to the United States, an indication that there is intelligence indicating Moscow may be violating arms control obligations.

The bill voices the "the sense of Congress that the president should consider not seeking to further limit or reduce the nuclear forces of the United States, including by negotiation, with a foreign country that remains in active noncompliance with existing nuclear arms control obligations, such as the Russian Federation."

The legislation also would require immediate consultation with Congress regarding noncompliance with arms agreements.

On multiple warheads, the bill would require that the Air Force maintain its ability to deploy multiple, independently targetable warheads on missiles.

"The April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review concluded that, ‘the United States will deMIRV all deployed ICBMs, so that each Minuteman III ICBM has only one nuclear warhead," the report said.

"The committee believes that the capability to ‘reMIRV’ the nation’s ICBMs must be retained to mitigate the risk of a widespread technical failure in another leg of the nuclear triad or changes in the geopolitical environment that requires a more robust U.S. nuclear force posture."