Well — they aren’t calling it the Prague Treaty per se — yet. But the post-START Treaty is scheduled to be signed in Prague later this spring and represents some pretty major changes in the arms control world and respective stockpiles of the US and Russia:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 26, 2010

Key Facts about the New START Treaty

Treaty Structure: The New START Treaty is organized in three tiers of increasing level of detail. The first tier is the Treaty text itself. The second tier consists of a Protocol to the Treaty, which contains additional rights and obligations associated with Treaty provisions. The basic rights and obligations are contained in these two documents. The third tier consists of Technical Annexes to the Protocol. All three tiers will be legally binding. The Protocol and Annexes will be integral parts of the Treaty and thus submitted to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.

Strategic Offensive Reductions: Under the Treaty, the U.S. and Russia will be limited to significantly fewer strategic arms within seven years from the date the Treaty enters into force. Each Party has the flexibility to determine for itself the structure of its strategic forces within the aggregate limits of the Treaty. These limits are based on a rigorous analysis conducted by Department of Defense planners in support of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

Aggregate limits:

  • 1,550 warheads. Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit.
    • This limit is 74% lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
  • A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
  • A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
    • This limit is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the START Treaty.

Verification and Transparency: The Treaty has a verification regime that combines the appropriate elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of the Treaty. Measures under the Treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring. To increase confidence and transparency, the Treaty also provides for the exchange of telemetry.

Treaty Terms: The Treaty’s duration will be ten years, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. The Parties may agree to extend the Treaty for a period of no more than five years. The Treaty includes a withdrawal clause that is standard in arms control agreements. The 2002 Moscow Treaty terminates upon entry into force of the New START Treaty. The U.S. Senate and the Russian legislature must approve the Treaty before it can enter into force.

No Constraints on Missile Defense and Conventional Strike: The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities.

I will be the first to admit (along with many others it seems in the arms control community) to still trying to intuitively puzzle out the “separate” and “combined” limits, but bigger picture see somethings of interest:

a) This is a “build-down” treaty, not one designed to forestall future developments (e.g., throw weight breakouts, air launched ballistic missiles, etc.) which speaks volumes to the current and future states of the strategic programs of the US and Russia.

b) For the US — B-1’s, SSGNs , conventional ballistic missiles (aka Prompt Global Strike) and missile defenses (both the ground-based BMDS and the forthcoming PAA) are off the books. Russia ends up with a less obtrusive inspection/verification regime and a requirement for only 5 telemetry exchanges per year (per SECDEF Gates at the press briefing).

c) Empty launchers apparently won’t be counted – unlike START. Bombers weight in the overall equation is lessened (as some commentators have pointed out, almost Reagan-esque as his assertion was the slower bombers weren’t as much of a threat as the missiles).

d) Though each bomber counts as one warhead — each bomber also counts as one delivery vehicle, which acts to limit temptation to build a large fleet of bombers armed with cruise missiles (that and the current state of air defenses). On the future of the bomber force as an element of the traditional nuclear deterrent triad, an interesting and recent paper by the Mitchell Air Power Institute on what shape the deterrent force should take (Triad, Dyad, Monad?) asserts that:

(The) US Department of Defense should pursue an ICBM/SLBM Dyad as it moves to reshape its nuclear force posture at lower warhead levels. Essentially, the US is already moving in this direction: the ICBMs and SLBMs remain robust, with modernization scheduled and funded, but the aging ALCM calls into question the value of the B-52 fleet, while the modernized but very small B-2 force is assuming a niche role. In short, the United States will soon field a de facto nuclear Dyad.

and that for the near term the United States should

leverage the strengths of the ICBM and SLBM forces while minimizing the weaknesses of the nuclear-capable bomber as that leg of the Triad is phased out. Prudent decisions about nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles for the future—under arms control ceilings limiting deployed weapons and launchers—demand deliberation within a framework of deterrent attributes and stabilizing outcomes such as offered here. We believe a Dyad of modernized ICBMs and SLBMs will provide for strategic nuclear deterrence and stability in the years ahead, while allowing and encouraging needed investments in long-range conventional strike.

All of which, along with the release of the NPR and expected forthcoming debate over PGS, should provide interesting fodder for deliberations over the size and shape of the US strategic deterrent force in the coming years.

I’ll continue turning over the whole numerical relationships — and hopefully we’ll have the actual treaty text to review and add insight in the near future. In the meantime, it is a good sign that Sen Lugar (R-Ind.) has voiced his approval on the treaty which I hope will be subject to a through, dispassionate review as it goes to ratification this summer More, definitely more, to follow.

(crossposted at steeljawscribe.com)

Posted by SteelJaw in Foreign Policy
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  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    A few observations:

    1. “Tactical” nukes are not counted by this treaty. Interesting when a B-61 is dropped by a B-52 or B-2, it is a strategic weapon. Same weapon dropped from stockpile in Europe doesn’t count as a strategic weapon. Similarly, a W-80 warhead on a ALCM launched from a B-52 or B-2 is a strategic weapon covered by this treaty, but same warhead fired from an SSN on a TLAM is not counted. There are similar Russian examples.

    2. There will be a lot of positive spin on this treaty by both governments, but how much does it matter when the nuclear warheads themselves are not required to be eliminated or even counted?

    3. The creative accounting for bombers is not logical. As the USAF recently demonstrated (much to their surprise), B-52’s can carry nukes on wing pods as well as internal load. My recollection is about 20 weapons for each B-52, but this treaty counts them as one.

    4. The conventional ballistic missile option is appealing to some. Consider the cost of that weapon system. Remember that even if there is zero geographic error in conventional warhead delivery (never the case), the ability of an adversary to jam GPS, bury and harden targets limits this weapon system’s effectiveness. Note that while some very impressive penetration capabilities of high speed conventional warheads on ballistic missiles have been demonstrated, you can get essentially the same penetration performance by using ATACMS which is orders of magnitude less expensive than a conventional SLBM.

  • YNSN

    I’d want to leave Tactical nukes out of the treaty because I am not going to use a fusion weapon against a terrorist that just detonated a dirty bomb in Manhattan. Give me a nice small nuke that can take out that mountain over there, but leave the other valley relatively safe. Or, Iran has their Shish-kabob (whatever their IRBMs are called) on its way to Tel Aviv, I need to now take out their facilities. Do I want to level and pollute 40 some-odd square miles, or do I just want to hit their nuke facilities?

    I bet they are thinking that they can be surgical with tactical nukes, and that no one really wants to destroy entire metropolitan areas any more.

  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    The weapons effects of “tactical” nuke is identical to the strategic nuke covered by this treaty.

  • Chuck Hill

    How do you distinguish a conventional ballistic missile from a nuclear tipped on when it is coming at you?

    How about a few hundred? How do you respond?

  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    Excellent question. Also consider overflight of your territory when conventional ballistic missile is aimed at a neighbor.

    In my experience there are always advocates of wonder weapons (or missile defense systems) that use Power Point slides to prove if only we throw enough money at them, they can solve all our problems.

    Remember Kosovo where then MajGen Chuck Wald and ASD Ken Bacon gave daily press briefings on number of tanks and APCs destroyed by primarily F-16’s at 15,0000 feet AGL. When boots on the ground viewed those targets up close, many were decoys made of plywood.