WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), requesting that the agency analyze the consequences of President Trump allowing the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to expire in 2021. New START is a treaty between the United States and Russia that sets limits on the size of each country’s nuclear arsenal, and allows each party to verify the others’ compliance through inspections and other measures.
“In the absence of those transparency and confidence building measures in New START (as well as previous treaties), both parties will lose a means to have direct knowledge of their adversary’s capabilities,” wrote the lawmakers. “This situation will lead to potentially destabilizing uncertainty regarding each sides’ forces, and could lead both sides to increase their arsenals to hedge against that uncertainty, which could in turn lead to an arms race like the one we experienced during the Cold War.”
In the letter addressed to CBO Director Philip Swagel, Senator Menendez and Representative Smith request the agency examine the costs to the United States of allowing New START to expire, which could force the United States to increase production of expensive nuclear warheads and related infrastructure. The United States, under President Trump, has already withdrawn from another key arms control agreement with Russia, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The letter comes as the Trump Administration refuses to clearly articulate its position on New START, even when asked directly about the treaty in Congressional hearings. Last May, Senator Menendez asked the State Department’s top arms control official, Andrea Thompson, “if New START expires, could Russia target the United States with hundreds or perhaps even thousands of additional nuclear warheads?” All Undersecretary Thompson could offer in response was, “That's a good question for Russia, Senator.”
A copy of the letter can be found here and below:
Congressional Budget Office
Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Dr. Swagel:
The 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia, an agreement which limits the number of strategic nuclear weapon warheads and delivery systems that each country may field, will expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to a 5-year extension. To date, the Trump Administration has not indicated that it intends to pursue an extension.
If the New START Treaty is allowed to expire, there will be no limits on the size of the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia for the first time in over 25 years. Moreover, each side will lose the right to conduct onsite inspections of the other’s strategic nuclear forces and assurances the other party will not interfere with or conceal critical systems from surveillance using satellites and other methods. In the absence of those transparency and confidence building measures in New START (as well as previous treaties), both parties will lose a means to have direct knowledge of their adversary’s capabilities. This situation will lead to potentially destabilizing uncertainty regarding each sides’ forces, and could lead both sides to increase their arsenals to hedge against that uncertainty, which could in turn lead to an arms race like the one we experienced during the Cold War.
We request that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide an analysis of this topic, in particular looking at the costs that the United States could incur if the New START Treaty is allowed to expire. This analysis should consider several scenarios in which the United States increases the size of its strategic nuclear arsenal, either in response to a Russian increase of the same amount or as a hedge against the uncertainty about whether Russia might be increasing the capabilities of its forces quantitatively or qualitatively. Those scenarios should include: increasing the number of deployed warheads by uploading only (that is, loading more warheads on fielded delivery systems that currently carry fewer warheads than their full capacity would allow); increasing the number of warheads up to the limits of the Moscow Treaty by increasing the number of delivery systems; and increasing the number of warheads and delivery systems to the limits that had been negotiated for the START II Treaty or START Treaty. To the extent possible, we would also like CBO to explore other areas, such as infrastructure for warhead and fissile materials production, and space surveillance and intelligence analysis, where costs might increase if the United States abandons nuclear arms control.
We would like CBO to produce a report with the results of its analysis by April 2020, in time for consideration of this matter during the discussion of the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2021.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.