- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2010

The military’s joint chiefs closely watched U.S.-Russian arms talks and rejected Moscow’s call for banning new conventionally-armed long-range missiles in the START arms accord, but accepted some curbs, according to a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman, outlined the opposition in a letter made public on Monday endorsing Senate ratification of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty now being debated in the Senate.

Adm. Mullen stated that “U.S. senior military leaders monitored very closely all provisions related to conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) throughout the negotiation process.”

“During that process, the Russian Federation publicly declared in several occasions that there should be a ban on the placement of conventional warhead on strategic delivery systems,” he said.

Adm. Mullen said in the end the chiefs agreed that any warhead — nuclear, high-explosive or high-speed kinetic — on an intercontinental or submarine missile would be counted under START’s central limits.

However, he said the treaty allows deployment and further development of the conventional strike weapons, which are designed to hit targets any place around the world in 60 minutes or less.

“It is true that intercontinental ballistic missiles with a traditional trajectory would be accountable under the treaty, but the treaty’s limits accommodate any plans the United States might pursue during the life of the treaty to deploy conventional warheads on ballistic missiles,” Adm. Mullen said.

Adm. Mullen said the United States “made clear” during negotiations that the Pentagon will not consider non-nuclear long-range strike weapons not defined by the treaty, including “boost glide” warheads that skirt the upper atmosphere “to be accountable under the treaty.”

According to defense officials, the Pentagon is not considering the use of ballistic missiles for non-nuclear attack weapons under prompt global strike.

Its main concepts being developed include a high-speed glide vehicle and other super high speed weapons that would have to be launched from a new missile not covered by the treaty.

The letter echoes earlier concerns expressed by Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told The Washington Times last month that the treaty “will enable us to move forward with our modernization effort and will not put any noteworthy constraints on development of our prompt global strike capability.”

A recent Congressional Research Service report stated, “Congress is likely to question how the New START Treaty would affect U.S. plans” for the conventional global-strike mission.

“Warheads deployed on boost-glide systems would not be affected by the treaty because these are new types of strategic offensive arms,” the report said. “But those deployed in existing types of reentry vehicles on existing types of ballistic missiles, like the Navy’s [conventional-warhead Trident] program, would count against the treaty limits.”

The Mullen letter was written the same day it was requested by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and states that the treaty “has the full support of your uniformed military, and we all support ratification.”

Adm. Mullen said he and the chiefs support the treaty because it allows a strong and flexible nuclear force and will help Russia to be open about its nuclear programs. It also will help reduce nuclear arms proliferation around the world, he said.

Failure to ratify the treaty will leave Russian nuclear facilities unmonitored by ground teams of inspectors and could result in a shift of defense sources “to maintain adequate awareness of Russian nuclear forces.”

Defense officials have said the United States would have to divert intelligence and surveillance assets currently focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to arms control monitoring.

Adm. Mullen said the chiefs also are confident the treaty will not “constrain in any way our ability to pursue robust missile defenses.”