The Challenge for Arms Control Verification in the Post-New START World

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Nuclear weapon arms control treaty verification is a key aspect of any agreement between signatories to establish that the terms and conditions spelled out in the treaty are being met. Historically, arms control negotiations have focused more on the rules and protocols for reducing the numbers of warheads and delivery systems - sometimes resorting to complex and arcane procedures for counting forces - in an attempt to address perceived or real imbalances in a nation's strategic posture that could lead to instability. Verification procedures are generally defined in arms control treaties and supporting documents and tend to focus on technical ... continued below

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Wuest, C R May 24, 2012.

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Nuclear weapon arms control treaty verification is a key aspect of any agreement between signatories to establish that the terms and conditions spelled out in the treaty are being met. Historically, arms control negotiations have focused more on the rules and protocols for reducing the numbers of warheads and delivery systems - sometimes resorting to complex and arcane procedures for counting forces - in an attempt to address perceived or real imbalances in a nation's strategic posture that could lead to instability. Verification procedures are generally defined in arms control treaties and supporting documents and tend to focus on technical means and measures designed to ensure that a country is following the terms of the treaty and that it is not liable to engage in deception or outright cheating in an attempt to circumvent the spirit and the letter of the agreement. As the Obama Administration implements the articles, terms, and conditions of the recently ratified and entered-into-force New START treaty, there are already efforts within and outside of government to move well below the specified New START levels of 1550 warheads, 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 800 deployed and nondeployed strategic launchers (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silos, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) tubes on submarines, and bombers). A number of articles and opinion pieces have appeared that advocate for significantly deeper cuts in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, with some suggesting that unilateral reductions on the part of the U.S. would help coax Russia and others to follow our lead. Papers and studies prepared for the U.S. Department of Defense and at the U.S. Air War College have also been published, suggesting that nuclear forces totaling no more than about 300 warheads would be sufficient to meet U.S. national security and deterrence needs. (Davis 2011, Schaub and Forsyth 2010) Recent articles by James M. Acton and others suggest that the prospects for maintaining U.S. security and minimizing the chances of nuclear war, while deliberately reducing stockpiles to a few hundred weapons, is possible but not without risk. While the question of the appropriate level of cuts to U.S. nuclear forces is being actively debated, a key issue continues to be whether verification procedures are strong enough to ensure that both the U.S. and Russia are fulfilling their obligations under the current New Start treaty and any future arms reduction treaties. A recent opinion piece by Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft (2012) raised a number of issues with respect to governing a policy to enhance strategic stability, including: in deciding on force levels and lower numbers, verification is crucial. Particularly important is a determination of what level of uncertainty threatens the calculation of stability. At present, that level is well within the capabilities of the existing verification systems. We must be certain that projected levels maintain - and when possible, reinforce - that confidence. The strengths and weaknesses of the New START verification regime should inform and give rise to stronger regimes for future arms control agreements. These future arms control agreements will likely need to include other nuclear weapons states and so any verification regime will need to be acceptable to all parties. Currently, China is considered the most challenging party to include in any future arms control agreement and China's willingness to enter into verification regimes such as those implemented in New START may only be possible when it feels it has reached nuclear parity with the U.S. and Russia. Similarly, in keeping with its goals of reaching peer status with the U.S. and Russia, Frieman (2004) suggests that China would be more willing to accept internationally accepted and applied verification regimes rather than bilateral ones. The current verification protocols specified in the New START treaty are considered as the baseline case and are contrasted with possible alternative verification protocols that could be effective in a post-New START era of significant reductions in U.S. and other countries nuclear stockpiles. Of particular concern is the possibility of deception and breakout when declared and observed numbers of weapons are below the level considered to pose an existential threat to the U.S. In a regime of very low stockpile numbers, 'traditional' verification protocols as currently embodied in the New START treaty might prove less than adequate. I introduce and discuss a number of issues that need to be considered in future verification protocols, many of which do not have immediate solutions and so require further study. I also discuss alternatives and enhancements to traditional verification protocols, for example, confidence building measures such as burden sharing against the common threat of weapon of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism, joint research and development.

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PDF-file: 25 pages; size: 0.6 Mbytes

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  • Report No.: LLNL-TR-564612
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • DOI: 10.2172/1048481 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1048481
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc835367

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  • May 24, 2012

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • May 19, 2016, 9:45 a.m.

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  • Nov. 22, 2016, 10:07 p.m.

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Wuest, C R. The Challenge for Arms Control Verification in the Post-New START World, report, May 24, 2012; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc835367/: accessed December 13, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.