- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prompt global strike

Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is offering qualified support for the New START arms treaty in an effort to counter critics who say the treaty will restrict one of the Pentagon’s most promising new strategic weapons: Long-range missiles topped with conventional warheads that can hit targets anywhere on Earth in 60 minutes or less.

“The New START 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,” Gen. Cartwright told Inside the Ring in a statement.

The four-star general’s qualified endorsement did not define what “noteworthy constraints” are, but the treaty limits on prompt global strike are one of the main reasons many Senate Republicans this week balked at going ahead with debate on ratification of New START during the current lame-duck session.

Their worries were bolstered by a recent Congressional Research Service report that 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 Navys [conventional-warhead Trident] program, would count against the treaty limits.”

The Oct. 25 report by Amy F. Wolf states that Congress approved $406.8 million for prompt global strike missiles since October 2009.

Ms. Wolf said in an interview that Gen. Cartwright, when he was commander of U.S. Strategic Command, was a key backer of the new attack capability, which is needed for strikes on huddled terrorists in far away locations, deeply buried bunkers and movable targets that can’t be reached by bombers or submarine-launched missiles.

Gen. Cartwright initially favored conversion of two out of 12 nuclear missiles on every Trident-carrying submarine to carry high-explosive warheads, something that could be done fairly quickly. Congress, however, blocked the Navy two years ago from making the conversions over fears the Russians or Chinese would mistake the conventional missiles for a U.S. nuclear attack.

During START negotiations, Moscow’s negotiators demanded that conventional long-range missiles be included in the limit of 1,550 weapons each side could deploy.

But START’s Article 5 states that “when a Party believes that a new kind of strategic offensive arm is emerging, that Party shall have the right to raise the question of such a strategic offensive arm for consideration in the Bilateral Consultative Commission.”

Obama administration officials have said that shifting the question of prompt global strike missiles to the commission avoided formal treaty limits on the system because the commission’s talks are nonbinding.

But treaty critics say giving the Russians a say on our weapons development is a bad idea.

“As I understand the treaty, a conventional ICBM or SLBM would be counted under the 700 launcher limit,” said Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy under President George W. Bush. “So for every [prompt global strike] we deployed, we would have to take one nuclear launcher down. Seems like a limit to me.”

Ms. Wolf, however, said the limit is more complicated. The one-for-one warhead exchange covers conventional Tridents, but not “boost glide” and “hypersonic” weapons, which are not covered because they are not ballistic missiles.

Story Continues →