Republicans in the Senate are gearing up to battle the Obama administration over the high-priority plan to finish a new armscontrol 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 post2005 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.