New START Treaty Has New Counting

Extract from Hans Kristensen's blog article "new START treaty has new counting"

march 29 2010 on


The major provisions of the New START Treaty are:

* 1,550 deployed strategic warheads: Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts  one warhead toward this limit.
* A limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
* A limit of 100 non-deployed ICBM launchers (silos), SLBM launchers (tubes), and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

These limits don’t have to be met until 2017, and will remain in effect for three years until the treaty expires in 2020 (assuming ratification occurs this year). Once it is ratified, the 2002 Moscow Treaty (SORT) falls away.

Verification Extended

The most important part of the new treaty is that it extends a verification regime at least a decade into the future. The inspections and other verification procedures in this Treaty will be simpler and less costly to implement than the old START treaty, according to the White House.

This includes on-site inspections. Each side gets a total of 18 per year, ten of which are actual warhead counts of deployed missiles and the remaining eight being “Type 2″ inspections of storage and dismantlement facilities.

Exchange of missile test telemetry data has been limited partly because it is not as necessary for verification as previously; there are other means for collecting this information. Even so, the treaty includes exchange of telemetry data for five test flights each year.

The Fine Print: Limits Versus Reductions

The White House fact sheet states that the new limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads is 74% lower than the 6,000 warhead limit of the 1991 START Treaty, and 30% lower than the 2,200 deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.

That is correct, but the limit allowed by the treaty is not the actual number of warheads that can be deployed. The reason for this paradox is a new counting rule that attributes one weapon to each bomber rather than the actual number of weapons assigned to them. This “fake” counting rule frees up a large pool of warhead spaces under the treaty limit that enable each country to deploy many more warheads than would otherwise be the case. And because there are no sub-limits for how warheads can be distributed on each of the three legs in the Triad, the “saved warheads” from the “fake” bomber count can be used to deploy more warheads on fast ballistic missiles than otherwise.

Under the New START Treaty That’s One Nuclear Bomb!

The New START Treaty counts each nuclear bomber as one nuclear weapon even though U.S. and Russian bombers are equipped to carry up to 6-20 weapons each. This display at Barksdale Air Base shows a B-52 with six Air Launched Cruise Missiles, four B-61-7 bombs, two B83 bombs, six Advanced Cruise Missiles (now retired), and eight Air Launched Cruise Missiles. Russian bombers can carry up to 16 nuclear weapons.

The Moscow Treaty attributed real weapons numbers to bombers. The United States defined that weapons were counted as “operationally deployed” if they were “loaded on heavy bombers or stored in weapons storage areas of heavy bomber bases.” As a result, large numbers of bombs and cruise missile have been removed from U.S. bomber bases to central storage sites over the past five years, leaving only those bomber weapons that should be counted against the 2,200-warhead Moscow Treaty limit.

Since the new treaty attributes only one warhead to each bomber, it no longer matters if the weapons are on the bomber bases or not; it’s the bomber that counts not the weapons. As a result, a base with 22 nuclear tasked B-52 bombers will only count as 22 weapons even though there may be hundreds of weapons on the base.

According to U.S. officials, the United States wanted the New START Treaty to count real warhead numbers for the bombers but Russia refused to prevent on-site inspections of weapons storage bunkers at bomber bases. As a result, the 36 bombers at the Engels base near Saratov will count as only 36 weapons even though there may be hundreds of weapons at the base.

If the New START Treaty counting rule is used on today’s postures, then the United States currently only deploys some 1,650 strategic warheads, not the actual 2,100 warheads; Russia would be counted as deploying about 1,740 warheads instead of its actual 2,600 warheads. In other words, the counting rule would “hide” approximately 450 and 860 warheads, respectively, or 1,310 warheads. That’s more warheads that Britain, China, France, India, Israel, and Pakistan possess combined!

Dodging The Issue

Update March 30: Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, was asked at a press briefing to explain the rationale behind the “fake” bomber warhead counting rule, but dodged the issue: “Well, I think what we want to do right now is talk about why this is an important treaty….”

Increased transparency of bomber weapons would greatly improve the importance of the new treaty; the U.S. and Russia have more bomber warheads than the total nuclear weapon inventory of all other nuclear weapon states combined.

If they have to use an arbitrary bomber warhead number because it’s too hard to verify, why chose 1? Why not 10 (as START I did) or 12, the medium loading capacity of U.S. and Russian bombers?

The paradox is that with the “fake” bomber counting rule the United States and Russia could, if they chose to do so, deploy more strategic warheads under the New START Treaty by 2017 than would have been allowed by the Moscow Treaty by 2012.

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