A classified State Department report to Congress says that potential Russian cheating on the new START nuclear-arms pact would not be significant because of the size of U.S. nuclear forces.
But the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday questioned the commander of U.S. nuclear forces about the time and expense of negotiating the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty if Moscow is expected to violate the pact, now facing a difficult ratification fight in the Senate.
The State Department report on arms-control verification, dated July 12, stated that because of the terms of the new START, "the potential benefits to be derived from Russia from cheating or breakout from the treaty would appear to be questionable."
Because of the adequacy of U.S. land-based and sea-based missiles and nuclear bombers, "any Russian cheating under the treaty would have little effect if any on the assured second-strike capabilities of U.S. strategic forces," the report said in an unclassified section obtained by The Washington Times.
"In addition to the financial and international political costs of such an action, any Russian leader considering cheating or breakout from the new START Treaty would have to consider that the United States will retain the ability to 'upload' large numbers of additional nuclear warheads on both bombers and missiles under new START, which would provide the ability for a timely and very significant U.S. response," the report said.
The new treaty will provide an "improved understanding" of Russian nuclear forces, and the report noted that spy satellites and other technical intelligence gathering would deter Russian cheating.
The report was disclosed as the State Department prepared to release several long-delayed annual reports to Congress that are expected to show numerous incidents of Russian violations of arms treaties, including the 1991 START I pact that expired in December.
Additionally, U.S. intelligence analysts, in a major National Intelligence Estimate on START, have raised questions about whether Russian cheating could be detected.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, asked Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, U.S. Strategic Command commander, whether he agreed with the State Department verification report that Russian cheating on START would be of little consequence.
"I do agree with that," Gen. Chilton said.
"Well, what this brings to the casual observer's mind, General, is if it doesn't have any consequences if they do any cheating, what's the point in having a treaty?" Mr. McCain said.
"I always believed in all the treaties that I've been involved in, in the past 28 years, General, that cheating does matter and it does have an effect. And to say that it has little if any effect, then we've been wasting a lot of time and money on negotiations," the senator said.
Gen. Chilton then clarified his remarks to say he agreed that cheating would have an effect, but that "we're in a good position with the treaty" and that "significant cheating" would be detected.
Under the treaty, U.S. and Russian nuclear forces will be limited to 1,550 warheads. U.S. nuclear forces will put those weapons on 420 single-warhead Minuteman III missiles, 14 missile submarines with 240 Trident II missiles, and on 60 B-2 and B-52 bombers.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he agreed with Mr. McCain.
Mr. Bond criticized rushing through the treaty's ratification before Congress can properly evaluate the intelligence community’s assessment of it and the treaty’s lack of verification provisions that are needed to prevent Russian cheating. "The administration is taking us down a dangerous path," Mr. Bond said in a statement.
Earlier during the hearing, James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, also testified on the subject of Russian treaty cheating. He said "the survivability and responsiveness of [U.S.] strategic submarines at sea and alert heavy bombers would be unaffected by even large-scale cheating."
"This, of course, does not mean that Russian cheating or breakout is likely or that it would be acceptable," Mr. Miller said.
Signs of Russian treaty violations would be raised in a U.S.-Russian commission and, if not resolved, could lead to other unspecified action, he said.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, raised the issue of Russian arms-control cheating in October during a Senate floor speech.
Mr. Kyl stated that Russia violated the 1991 START with a new multiple-warhead SS-27 missile that was tested as recently as May 2007.
He said the missile shows that "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."
Russia's government has denied that it violated the 1991 START.
Russia and its predecessor state, the Soviet Union, however, were accused of numerous violations of arms-control treaties, according to annual reports to Congress and other government reports.
One of the most significant reported treaty violations was Russia's building of a large anti-ballistic missile radar at Krasnoyarsk that violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow admitted that the radar, which was built at an interior location, violated the ABM treaty.
The most recent State Department annual report on arms-control compliance, from 2005, stated that "a significant number of long-standing compliance issues" were raised with Moscow on the 1991 START, including the inability to determine if Russia exceeded the treaty's warhead limits, Moscow's failure to account for road-mobile ICBMs, its refusal to permit measurements of missile canisters and its failure to provide missile test data.
The annual compliance reports from 2006 to 2010 were made available to the Senate last week, and a State Department spokesman said unclassified versions would be made public soon.
Paula A. DeSutter, a former State Department arms-control official who worked on the missing compliance reports, told The Times in October that the reports, when made public, will show Moscow remains "in noncompliance on a whole range of START treaty issues."
Robert G. Joseph, former State Department undersecretary for arms control, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 24 that the treaty verification provisions leave "significant gaps" in monitoring of Russian nuclear force.
"'Trust but verify' has been the standard for more than 20 years," Mr. Joseph said. "Whether the new START treaty meets this standard is a major issue."
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and Armed Services Committee chairman, said during the hearing that the treaty is "verifiable."
Mr. McCain, however, said "many of us have concerns about the new START treaty's methods of verification, its constraints on ballistic-missile defense and the accompanying plan for modernization of both the nuclear stockpile and our nuclear-delivery vehicles."
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