September 26, 2013

Arms Control: Questions for Rose Gottemoeller

Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Rose Gottemoeller to be the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Ms. Gottemoeller currently serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. She was the lead negotiator of New START. Senators and the American people should expect her to answer some important questions.   

Future Arms Control With Russia: A Treaty on Tactical Nuclear Weapons

The New START Resolution of Ratification demands: “Further arms reduction agreements obligating the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in any militarily significant manner may be made only pursuant to the treaty-making power.” In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin this year, President Obama announced the United States could reduce its “deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” while still maintaining a credible deterrent. He further said he would “seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures” and “seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe.”

Russia has approximately a ten-to-one advantage in tactical nuclear arsenals. The time to address this asymmetry was in New START, but having failed to do so, the treaty’s Resolution of Ratification required the President to start negotiations within a year to address the massive disparity in the tactical stockpiles. Cutting our strategic arsenal is not the priority in our nuclear relationship with Russia. Rather, as Senator Biden said 10 years ago, “getting a handle on Russian tactical nuclear weapons must be a top arms control and non-proliferation objective of the United States government.”

To be consistent with the representations of the Obama Administration to Congress and the vast body of past practice on arms control matters, these negotiated cuts must be done by treaty. Secretary of Defense Panetta assured Congress that arms reductions would take place in the Obama Administration only as a result of an arms control treaty process. The Congressional Research Service has concluded arms control agreements are done “primarily in treaty form.”

The body of past practice overwhelmingly supports these conclusions. START I, START II, New START, Moscow Treaty, Limited Test Ban Treaty, ABM Treaty, INF Treaty, Threshold Test Ban Treaty, Non-proliferation Treaty, Biological Weapons Convention, and the Chemical Weapons Convention were all presented to the Senate as treaties. Exceptions to this practice have been very limited in comparison.

The framers specifically required two-thirds of the Senate to ratify treaties; in part, to make it more difficult to enter into them. Avoiding the Senate in a future arms control reduction with Russia precisely because the New START ratification process was so arduous would turn our framers’ vision on its head.

  • Would a one-third reduction in our strategic nuclear weapons be considered militarily significant?
  • Can you assure the Senate that President Obama’s negotiated cuts to our nuclear arsenal will be presented to the Senate in treaty form?
  • Can you assure the Senate that the next arms control agreement with Russia will focus on the massive numerical advantage Russia has over us and our allies in tactical nuclear weapons rather than on strategic nuclear weapons?

Russian Compliance with Arms Control  

The fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill originally required the President to certify to Congress, prior to making any reductions in strategic delivery systems, “that the Russian Federation is in compliance with its arms control obligations with the United States and is not engaged in activity in violation of, or inconsistent with, such obligations.” The fiscal cliff deal modified this statutory requirement in two ways. First, the President is now required only to certify whether Russia is in compliance. Previously, he had to affirmatively certify that it was in compliance—a much higher standard. Second, the President is now required only to certify whether Russia is in compliance with its “strategic” arms control obligations, as opposed to all such obligations.

It is self-evident that parties must adhere to the commitments they have made for arms control to have any meaning and credibility. We should only be completing arms control treaties with countries that actually follow them. As President Obama proclaimed in his April 2009 speech in Prague promising to rid the world of nuclear weapons: “rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

  • As the Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, you are likely the best person in the government to answer the following question: Did the Obama Administration demand these statutory changes because it cannot certify Russia is complying with all its arms control obligations (as opposed to just its strategic arms control obligations)?
  • Do you think it is important to be able to certify that Russia is currently complying with all its arms control obligations prior to negotiating future arms control agreements with Russia?
  • Do you agree that it would be absurd to negotiate a future arms control agreement with Russia if Russia were in violation of or otherwise acting inconsistently with its current arms control obligations?

One-sided Nature of New START  

New START requires the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 and their deployed nuclear delivery vehicles to 700. According to the last data exchange, Russia is already well below those limits, while we still need to make significant reductions to get below those limits. 

  • In future arms control negotiations with Russia, how can we avoid a treaty where we are the only party required to actually make reductions?

New START Negotiating History on Missile Defense

New START, for which Ms. Gottemoeller was lead negotiator, wholly ignored the Senate’s unanimous admonition not to include any limitations on missile defense in the treaty. During the negotiation period of New START, the Senate unanimously expressed its position that New START “not include any limitations on [U.S.] ballistic missile defense systems.”

When the treaty was signed, however, Article Five, Paragraph Three provided that neither party may convert or use ICBM or SLBM launchers for missile defense interceptors, nor use the launcher of a missile defense interceptor for ICBMs or SLBMs—a direct limitation. The Administration’s defense to this capitulation is that the United States would never take this missile defense action the treaty prohibits, and thus it is not a constraint. Secretary Clinton went so far as to testify that we could have had a long list of things in the treaty we weren’t going to do, to include that “we’re not going to launch [missile defense interceptors] from ... a cow.”

It is irrelevant that the United States currently has no plan to engage in the missile defense action prohibited by the treaty. The Senate’s admonition was clear, decrying any limitations on missile defense—including limitations the Administration deems meaningless. This concession reestablished the linkage between offensive weapons and missile defense that the United States eliminated when we withdrew from the ABM Treaty. It completely ignored the advice of the Senate during the negotiation phase.

  • In a treaty about strategic offensive arms, why is there a direct limitation on U.S. missile defense deployments?
  • What did we get in return for this concession to Russia during the negotiation of the treaty?
    • For example, why didn’t we get a higher delivery vehicle limitation?
    • Why didn’t we get a statement in the treaty text on an issue of equal importance to us, such as at least some reference to the myriad of issues raised by Russia’s massive numerical superiority in tactical nuclear weapons, which should be as concerning to us as stopping our missile defense deployments is to Russia? 
    • Can you assure us that in any arms control discussions with Russia for which you are responsible we will never agree to any limitations on our missile defense programs?
    • When you consult with the Senate on future arms control discussions with Russia, and seek the Senate’s advice on such matters, how can we be assured you won’t ignore it?

Our Nuclear Decisions Are Irrelevant to Others

President Obama said in Germany this year he wanted “to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.” It is unclear what this means, since we have been reducing our nuclear stockpile for more than 40 years. President Obama has yet to explain what benefits to the nonproliferation regime can be expected to come from the particular reductions he has advocated that have not already come from the previous 40 years of U.S. nuclear reductions, including his own reductions in New START.

Completing his announced reductions will likely have no direct impact on the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. As the United States reduced its nuclear arsenal throughout the last decades, Iran moved forward with its nuclear weaponization and uranium enrichment programs. Over the same time, North Korea made initial strides in its nuclear program, culminating in nuclear weapons tests. China has developed new types of weapons and significantly increased its stockpile capabilities. This is probably why the Strategic Posture Commission concluded it “does not believe that unilateral nuclear reductions by the United States would have any positive impact on countries like North Korea and Iran.”

  • If you are confirmed as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, will the focus of your nonproliferation efforts be on halting Iran and North Korea’s nuclear advances, or securing an arms control legacy with Russia that has no impact on the nuclear behavior of others?
  • Do you believe the current Iranian or North Korean regimes can be talked out of their nuclear programs?

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Ms. Gottemoeller has said the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty “remains a top priority for the Administration.” She has asserted “an effectively verified CTBT is central to leading towards a world of diminished reliance on nuclear weapons and reduced nuclear competition.” She has further asserted that when the CTBT international monitoring system is completely in place, it “will provide global coverage to detect and identify nuclear explosive tests.” Her predecessor argued the United States must ratify the CTBT because that would “provide a disincentive for states to conduct [nuclear] tests.”

  • We have maintained a very public moratorium against nuclear testing for more than 20 years. Why was that not disincentive enough against North Korea conducting nuclear tests?
  • Do you think if we had ratified the CTBT North Korea would not have conducted its nuclear test earlier this year?
  • Given that U.S. analysts were reportedly unable to collect sufficient information to reach firm conclusions about the most basic elements of North Korea’s test, even though collection resources were on full alert and attention, what does that say about the ability to monitor and verify CTBT compliance?
  • With Russia and China engaging in significant nuclear modernization programs as ratifying and signatory states to the CTBT respectively, what is the empirical basis for your assertion that the CTBT will reduce nuclear competition?
  • Is Russia abiding by CTBT obligations as we define those obligations?


President Obama said in Prague he would “seek engagement with Iran” to address its illicit nuclear program, and that “we believe in dialogue.” In July 2009, Secretary of State Clinton said Iran’s opportunity for diplomatic engagement on the issue “will not remain open indefinitely.” In October 2009, President Obama said “we’re not interested in talking for the sake of talking ... [T]he United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely.” After Iran continued to accelerate its nuclear program during President Obama’s entire first term, Secretary of State Kerry said in March of this year that Iran’s opportunity for a diplomatic solution cannot “remain open indefinitely,” and “talks will not go on for the sake of talks.” President Obama has sent private correspondence on multiple occasions to Iran’s Supreme Leader and now to new President Rouhani regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

  • How long are we going to engage in talks for the sake of talks while Iran continues to accelerate its illicit nuclear program?
  • President Obama recently said to the U.N. General Assembly that “we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.” Does this include the right to uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing technology?

Issue Tag: National Security