On Wednesday, top U.S. officials in Washington warned against cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal or agreeing to extend a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia without assurances that Moscow’s promised warhead freeze would actually happen.
“[E]ach piece of our triad is essential, but they’re also complementary,” Adm. Charles Richards, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in recorded remarks to the audience of a virtual conference hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If I lost any part of the triad, it … could embolden an adversary to believe that they could employ nuclear weapons against us.”
STRATCOM lifted the lid on Richard’s recorded address a couple weeks after Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate, wrote a lengthy op-ed suggesting that if former Vice President Joe Biden defeats President Trump in the Nov. 3 election, the Biden administration should take a “newer and fewer” approach to nuclear modernization, particularly with regard to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
A Biden White House could make it easier for Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, to enact a scaled-back ICBM modernization program. Smith has supported slowing down Northrop Grumman’s [NOC] roughly $13-billion contract to build Ground Based Strategic Deterrence Missiles to replace the aging Minuteman III fleet, but the GOP-controlled Senate, and plenty of Democrats in Smith’s own committee, have no appetite for such a change.
Meanwhile, hours before Richards’ prepared remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States still considered the New START arms control treaty a bad deal by itself, and that extending it would only be palatable to Washington if Russia agreed not merely to a freeze in nuclear-warhead deployments, but also to a means of verifying such a freeze.
“Russia has agreed in principle to freeze all of its nuclear warheads,” Pompeo said in a press briefing at the State Department. “We’re very pleased about that. But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.”
Russia on Friday agreed to a warhead freeze in exchange for one more year of New START, under which the U.S. and Russian may deploy no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons — essentially, the biggest, long-range nukes — at a time. The deal does not constrain Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal, which includes relatively smaller weapons intended to turn the tide of one military conflict.
Moscow said last week that it wanted no extension conditions other than a warhead freeze and has signaled its displeasure about potentially intrusive verification measures. The U.S. and Russia could extend New START for up to five years. If they do not agree on an extension by Feb. 2, the treaty, negotiated by the Obama administration, will expire.