Why talk about arms control at a conference of submariners? The subject is esoteric, the Cold War is over, and the prospects for progress are not good. So why take the time? The answer is that, along with missions and budgets, arms control serves as a significant constraint on the strategic Submarine Force and, perhaps, on the non-strategic force as well. The second answer is that the exact nature of those constraints is likely to remain unclear for quite a while.
I want to do three things this morning: explain how we got here, review where we are, and suggest some options for what might happen next. Before I do, I need to offer two caveats. Most of the people who have spoken to you yesterday and today are responsible officers speaking authoritatively. In contrast, I am speaking as an interested outsider. Some of these issues are being actively considered within the Pentagon. rm not going to talk about what is happening inside the government, in part because I only have a limited view of the process.
Second, most observers have a bad track record in predicating arms control progress. Several years ago I stood before you and predicted that Russia would shortly ratify START II. I was wrong then, and I may be wrong now. So I’m not going to predict, rm just going to offer possible alternative futures and suggest what they mean for our Submarine Force.
How We Got to Where We Are
We have been chasing strategic arms control for almost 30 years since the opening of the SALT I negotiations in November 1969. Over that period, there have been a variety of justifications for negotiated arms reductions. We wanted to save money or really to avoid future expenditures, since arms control rarely saves money in the near term because of the costs of verification and dismantlement. We wanted to provide predictability for the future. We wanted to constrain specific Soviet systems like the SS-20.
But the most enduring reason for pursuing nuclear arms control has been to enhance crisis stability. Simply put, crisis stability requires that either side be able to absorb an initial attack and still respond with a devastating counter-attack. Arms control has tried to restructure strategic forces so as to remove any incentive for either side to strike first in time of great tension. As a practical matter, this logic calls for preferential elimination of ICBMs with multiple warheads, since they are most subject to a use them or lose them decision. Put another way, stability, which implies survivability, is what has made the strategic Submarine Force so important.
For most of the Cold War we sought crisis stability and other objectives in large, formal, complex, extended negotiations. That period culminated with the signing of START I in 1991. START I began the process of moving the Soviet Union to a more stabilizing force structure. It limited heavy ICBMs and encouraged a modest shift to air-breathing systems. Clearly, however, there was more to do.
A few months after START I was signed, the Soviet Union collapsed. In the aftermath of that collapse, the Bush Administration saw an opportunity and made a renewed push to eliminate ICBMs with multiple warheads. Since the dire economic conditions in Russia were becoming obvious, the United States offered a simple trade: we would reduce our forces to the level that Russia could afford if Russia would make those reductions in a way we liked, by eliminating so called MIRVed ICBMs. That trade was the essence of what became the ST ART II Treaty.
How did this effect the Submarine Force? While ST ART I was designed to protect a Trident force of 24 boats, as the Cold War ended the United States concluded that we needed fewer ships and the 18 Trident force came into being. That’s the force that START II was designed to protect.
We signed START II in January 1993, just before the Bush Administration left office. The new Administration had made its ratification a high priority, and we confidently expected it to be ratified by the summer of 1993. We were wrong .
Initially, Russian ratification fell victim to a series of confrontations between President Yeltsin and his parliament. As time went on, new issues arose: the cost of implementation; the failure of the Yeltsin administration to explain what Russia’s force structure will be, what it will cost, where the money will come from; disputes with the United States over the ABM Treaty and NATO expansion growing recognition that the Russians could not afford to maintain even ST ART II forces.
But the two biggest problems were the growing estrangement between the Russian Executive and Legislative branches and the evaporation of the initial euphoria following the collapse of communism. In that brief period where Russians saw a new world and did not yet see how grim that world would be, ST ART II was concluded quickly and painlessly. As the grim reality of the Russian economic disaster became clear, the euphoria faded . In its place came resentment as the economic reforms urged by the West disrupted the patterns of decades. The United States came to be seen as seeking to take advantage of Russia in her time of weakness.
The Administration tried three main approaches to induce Russian ratification. First, to set an example, it gained Senate approval for the Treaty in early 1996. Second, it argued that only through START II ratification could the Russians gain equality. To reinforce this reasoning and to put pressure on Russia, the Congress and the Administration mandated that the United States would not reduce its forces below ST ART I levels until the Russians ratified START II. The Administration defined START I levels as including 18 Tridents, despite the fact that the Nuclear Posture Review had concluded that only 14 were needed and that was all we were programming for. These tactics failed.
The Administration then tried a third approach. As time wore on and the Russian economic situation worsened, many Russians began to call for a new treaty at still lower levels, levels they thought they might be able to afford. After several years of resisting these calls, President Clinton met with President Yeltsin in Helsinki on March 21, 1997 and reached the following agreement:
- To amend START D to delay completion until 31 December 2007, a five year slip designed to make it easier for the Russians to comply.
- To negotiate a START III that would lower levels to 2000-2500 warheads, also by 2007. This START III would also deal with warhead dismantlement and early deactivation of systems to be eliminated.
- And to resolve a number of issues associated with the ABM Treaty that were seen by some as hindering Russian ratification.
Where Are We Now?
That’s how we got here. But where is here? Where are we now? Effectively, we are at all-stop. We have fallen into a disturbing pattern: the two Presidents meet, reaffirm the importance of prompt ratification, Yeltsin goes back to Moscow, and nothing happens. Last Friday (Ed. Note: 615198) the Russian Defense and Foreign Ministers met with faction leaders in the Duma (the Russian parliament). It did not go well. Next week (Ed. Note: week of 6115198) there will be an elaborate briefing for at least 150 of the 450 member Duma at the Russian General Staff Military Academy. It will not go well either.
Two days ago the Duma formally delayed START II consideration and now will not take up the issue until September at the earliest. But action then seems unlikely. Many believe that by using his considerable power, President Yeltsin could force START II through the Duma. But that is looking more and more difficult. The Communists are the largest party in the Duma. Without their cooperation, ratification is impossible. But instead of working with Yeltsin they have just introduced a motion to impeach him. The motion will fail, but it won’t improve relations or foster cooperation. Further, as most of you know, there was a major confrontation with the Duma over the choice of a Prime Minister. There will probably be an attempt to bring a vote of no confidence this fall.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, we still must submit the ABM agreements reached in Helsinki and codified later last year to the Senate. It is not at all clear that there will be the necessary two-thirds vote to ratify them. They are strongly opposed by Senator Helms, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. Failure to approve them would make a bad situation in Russia worse. Thus, looking at all these factors, I think the only honest assessment is that, because or international Russian political problems over which we have no control, we are extremely
unlikely to see ST ART II ratification in the near future.
What Happens Next?
It seems to me that there are four possible ways this drama may unfold. Each has quite different consequences for the Submarine Force. First, of course, I could be wrong-I have been before. Perhaps this time Lucy won’t move the football and the Duma will act. The Administration, at least in public, seems to believe this. They are busy working to be ready to begin ST ART III negotiations as soon as the Duma acts.
What will this outcome mean for the Submarine Force? First, we’ll be able to go ahead with plans to reduce the Force to 14 Tridents. Second, since every strategic thinker I know wants to maintain 14 Tridents and a two ocean capability, we’ll need an arms control regime that accommodates this at reasonable cost. One logical way to preserve 14 Tridents with fewer warheads is to negotiate a low cost way to reduce the number of accountable tubes on each ship. This will be especially required if, as I believe, ST ART m ends up with lower levels than those the two Presidents agreed to in Helsinki. Third, we can expect Russian pressure to ban TLAMIN and further pressure (which I think the Administration will resist) to constrain non-nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles. Finally, yesterday you heard Vice Admiral Rich Mies describe an idea for converting some of the four Tridents planned for retirement into strike submarines carrying cruise missiles. For that conversion to be affordable, there needs to be some relief from existing dismantlement provisions. The Navy will need to decide whether to seek such relief in ST ART III.
It is important to recognize that even if ST ART II is ratified and ST ART Ill negotiations begin in September, which I find wildly optimistic, reaching agreement will be a very long process. Warhead dismantlement and transparency will be complex and time consuming to negotiate. In addition, many argue that it is necessary to capture non-strategic warheads in any new agreement; doing so raises both negotiating and verification challenges.
Further, unofficial Russians purporting to speak for Defense Minister Sergeyev have been arguing that even the 2000-2500 warheads agreed to in Helsinki are more than Russia can afford.
They speak of lower limits of, perhaps, 1000-1300 ballistic missile warheads with some greater flexibility on bombers. If we actually get to negotiations, I think the Administration is likely to agree to reductions below the level of 2000 warheads, but that will be a time consuming decision. What all this says to me is that agreement before the end of the Administration is unlikely even if ST ART Ill negotiations begin soon.
Suppose I’m not wrong and ratification continues to slip. What happens then? First, the Administration will, I think, have to redefine what it means to remain al START I levels. The cost of maintaining 18 Tridents will become crushing, as will comparable expenditures on Air Force systems. It seems illogical that arms control, which was supposed to limit nuclear arms, now could prevent us from reducing them. There are ways to redefine what we mean by START I forces in a less costly way, especially since the theory that our keeping these forces is pressuring the Russians seems to have been proven wrong.
The more difficult question is what to do in the face of continued Russian refusal to ratify ST ART II. There are three possibilities:
- First, we could simply continue our present course, hoping that sooner or later the Russians will realize that ratification is in their interest. It is, but we have had no success in convincing them. I think this is what the Administration will do, but sooner or later-perhaps early in the next administration-this course will be seen as bankrupt.
- Second, we could scrap ST ART II and proceed to negotiate a new treaty based on the Helsinki agreements, a kind of START II/ST ART Ill amalgam. I expect that there will be calls to do this from arms control enthusiasts, but I think they should be resisted. First, it isn’t clear that a new treaty will be any easier to negotiate or to ratify. More importantly, in a blank sheet negotiation, the Russians will certainly seek to retain some MIRVed ICBMs. For the United States to accept such retention would be devastating. The only reason we agreed to START II was to eliminate MIRVed ICBMs; the only reason to contemplate START Ill is to secure the benefits of START II. Walking back the MIRV ICBM ban would be strategically unsound and, in my view. it would be extremely difficult to gain Senate approval for such a treaty.
- Finally, we could simply conclude that, for now, nuclear arms control with Russia has run its course and shift to a different basis for planning our strategic forces. I doubt the Administration will be willing to consider this, but perhaps it should.
How might this last idea be implemented? The United States would announce that, while continuing to comply with START I, we would size our strategic forces based on our needs as determined by the Nuclear Posture Review. Consistent with prudence and Congressional direction, we would reduce our forces in a way to maintain parity or slight superiority over Russian forces. We would make it clear that we were willing to re-engage in strategic nuclear arms control sometime in the future, but that we would not do so until there was clear evidence that the Russians were serious. START II ratification could provide such evidence.
I began this talk by asking why the Submarine Force should care about arms control. What does it matter? It seems to me that we face a period of strategic and programmatic uncertainty that will last at least throughout the rest of this Administration and, as far as I can see, has no clear end. I suggested four possible futures. Only the one where the Duma acts soon gives us any real predictability. Unfortunately, that appears to be the least likely.
We should, of course, not make too much of all of this. Submariners have always been flexible. We take pride in our ability to adapt to changing conditions at sea. Now, we’ll have to continue to show that same flexibility in the programmatic arena for what may be a very long period of uncertainty about the future of nuclear arms control and thus of our strategic Submarine Force.