So says Kenneth A. Myers, former director of DTRA, a Pentagon agency with 2,000 civilian and uniformed personnel who are charged with countering weapons of mass destruction, including through on-site inspections of weapons treaties. “The level of confidence in the United States in our ability to detect non-compliance on the Russia side is very, very high,” Myers says.
Myers was testifying last December at House hearing on New START as the only Republican witness. He testified he favors expanding the New START treaty, signed in 2010, to cover new countries like China and new weapons being developed by Russia. But he said a key prerequisite for that is extending the treaty before it expires in February 2021. “It is necessary to extend in order to expand,” he said. Now working for a Pentagon contractor, Myers led DTRA for seven years until 2016, the agency’s longest-serving leader. Before that, he was the top arms control expert for Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.
Unlike the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, from which the Trump administration withdrew last year because Russia was violating its terms, Moscow has been in full compliance with New START, which limits each side’s strategic nuclear missiles.
One reason Myers said he’s confident that the U.S. can catch any Russian cheating is that DTRA’s analytical and technical experts helped negotiate the treaty and its verification protocols. “Of the 56 members of….the [American] negotiating team in Geneva, 18 were DTRA personnel,” he said. “They provided decades of experience and expertise to the delegation and played a critical role in the development of the treaty. DTRA was confident in and ready to make full use of the treaty provisions because they helped develop them.”
And he emphasized that the on-site inspections are far more than cursory exercises. “The inspection team doesn’t have to announce where it wants to go in Russia. The team trains, the team exercises, the team deploys in a very, very comprehensive way,” Myers said. “I have no doubt that the quality of the information we are getting is head and shoulders above what others are doing. We are bringing back, because of the quality, because of the investment, because of the training exercises, better information.”
Should the treaty be allowed to lapse, the United States would lose much of that critical intelligence about Russia’s nuclear weapons and their capabilities. Russia would likewise have to cease its inspections of American facilities. That would leave both sides more in the dark, opening the door to a greater risk of miscalculation, always one of the biggest threats in any military confrontation.
Moscow has said it is willing to sign a clean extension of the treaty, which could be accomplished relatively easily. The Trump administration says that the threat from China’s growing nuclear arsenal, which is far smaller than Russia’s or America’s, requires a new trilateral treaty. China has said it won’t join a nuclear weapons treaty with the other two. All experts agree that negotiating a three-way treaty, even if possible, would take far longer than the year left before New START expires.
The Trump administration has been non-committal about extending the treaty, although some present and former officials have been openly critical of New START. America’s European allies strongly favor extending the treaty because it provides strategic stability and predictability. Scrapping it, many in Europe and the U.S. believe, would spark a new arms race, one that would be very costly for the U.S. Many former U.S. military leaders have also voiced support for extending the treaty, arguing that America is safer with it than without it, given the limits it puts on Russia and its strong inspection regime. With the demise of the INF Treaty, New Start is the only remaining arms control treaty between the two nuclear powers.
As Myers explained, it’s a treaty that benefits both sides, so both have an interest to stay in compliance: “The Russians have as much to gain from this arms control process as we do. They are extremely worried and concerned about our strategic systems….They have as many benefits as we do, and they don’t want to see it go either.”