Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Department of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty strengthens the nation’s defenses and urged the Senate to ratify the pact between the United States and Russia.
“This treaty reduces the strategic nuclear forces of our two nations in a manner that strengthens the strategic stability of our relationship and protects the security of the American people and our allies,” the secretary said. “America’s nuclear arsenal remains a vital pillar of our national security, deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies and partners.”
Gates said that under the treaty the United States has an upper boundary of 1,550 deployed warheads; up to 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable heavy bombers; and up to 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
“Under this treaty, we retain the power to determine the composition of our force structure, allowing the United States complete flexibility to deploy, maintain and modernize our strategic nuclear forces in a manner that best protects our national-security interests,” he said.
The DoD will retain 240 deployed SLBMs, distributed among 14 submarines, each of which will have 20 launch tubes. This is the most survivable leg of the triad, and reducing the number of missiles carried on each submarine from 24 to 20 will facilitate Navy planning for the Ohio-class submarine replacement, Gates said.
Manned bombers provide flexibility to the mix, and the United States will retain up to 60 deployed heavy bombers, including all 18 operational B-2s. At the same time, the Air Force is planning for a long-range strike replacement and plans to convert a number of B-52Hs to a conventional-only role.
“Finally, the U.S. will retain up to 420 deployed single-warhead Minuteman 3 ICBMs at our current three missile bases,” Gates said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the treaty does not affect U.S. missile-defense plans, and that nothing in the new START treaty constrains U.S.missile-defense efforts.
“Russia has issued a unilateral statement on missile defense, expressing its views,” she said. “We have not agreed to this view, and we are not bound by this unilateral statement.”
In fact, the United States intends to continue improving and deploying the missile-defense systems, Clinton said.
Gates said the new START does not restrict U.S. ability to develop and deploy prompt global strike or prompt conventional strike capabilities that could attack targets anywhere on the globe in an hour or less. The treaty provides a basis for monitoring Russia’s compliance with its treaty obligations while also providing important insights into the size and composition of Russian strategic forces, he said.
The treaty allows each party to conduct up to 18 on-site inspections each year at operating bases for ICBMs, SSBNs and nuclear-capable heavy bombers, as well as storage facilities, test ranges and conversion and elimination facilities. The agreement also allows both parties to track the movement and changes in status of the strategic offensive arms covered by the treaty. Finally, the treaty provides for noninterference with national technical means of verification, such as reconnaissance satellites, ground stations and ships.