Salutary Effect of Openness

The START I Treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States was signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush on July 31, 1991 in Moscow. It was a remarkable and decisive step toward controlling strategic nuclear weapons, coming after more than 20 years of negotiations and the signing of both the SALT I and SALT II treaties, since neither treaty had prevented the superpowers from increasing the number of nuclear warheads on strategic delivery vehicles to 10-11 units by 1990.

The two things that made the treaty possible were a breakthrough in relations between our countries that was achieved during meetings in Geneva and Reykjavik between Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the "Evil Empire", and Ronald Reagan, the president of a country that has always been an implacable enemy of the communist system, and the signing of the indefinite Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987.

Working in Fives

Soviet arms limitation policy was developed at meetings of the so-called Big Five and Small Five, both established in the 1970s. The Big Five included top officials from the Communist Party’s Central Committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the KGB and the military-industrial complex. The Small Five was usually led by the first deputy chief of the General Staff and consisted of managers of various levels and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the KGB, and military industrial complex, the Strategic Missile Forces, the Soviet Navy and Air Force, military and defense research institutes led by relevant ministries, and experts from the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Members of these teams discussed and passed resolutions on limiting and reducing nuclear, conventional, and chemical weapons. The Small Five’s conclusions on certain issues were submitted for consideration to meetings of the Big Five and were approved by the Central Committee’s Political Bureau (Politburo).

Drafting START I required extraordinary effort and over five years of work. Over 500 pages of documents constitute integral parts of the treaty.

One may get an idea of the amount of work done from the Treaty’s drafts, memoranda, and other appendices, where each page is marked dozens of times with the numbers 1 and 2 in parenthesis to represent the Soviet or the US position.

In the years when START I was under discussion, the Big Five meetings were presided over by Politburo member Lev Zaykov as head of the Commission on the Reduction of Nuclear and Conventional Weapons. The meetings were usually attended by KGB head Vladimir Kryuchkov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of Defense Dmitry Yazov, and Chief of General Staff Mikhail Moiseev. An expert from the Ministry of Defense and one from the defense industry were sometimes invited to the meetings. The discussions were often quite heated. For instance, during a discussion of limits on heavy missiles and the throw weight, Zaykov severely reprimanded the head of the Soviet delegation to USSR-US talks in Geneva: “Who do you work for? For us or for them?”

Senator Richard Lugar views the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) SS-18 to be dismantled at Surovatikha, Russia, August 27, 2002. The SS-18, which carried ten independently targetable nuclear warheads, was the largest intercontinental ballistic missile developed in the Soviet Union. Photo:

Balance of Interests

In our talks with the United States on START I, we had to agree on the formal and legal interpretations and also settle several significant differences. These included US demands to prevent the production and deployment of our ground-based mobile missile systems, restrictions on the total throw weight of ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and other parameters. The reason the Americans wanted to ban the Soviet mobile missile systems was amusing: they said that it was hard for them to carry out reconnaissance of these systems. Their position was unacceptable for us, because without these systems we could not ensure the necessary capacity for a retaliatory strike. As a result, our representatives insisted on preserving mobile missile systems and proved that they are similar to submarine missile carriers in terms of reconnaissance tasks and capabilities.

We also insisted on our parameters for the throw weight, since a cut might have resulted in an excessive reduction of all heavy ICBMs, which the Treaty was already set to cut in half.

There were hundreds of similar disagreements on critical issues.

Monitoring System

The system for monitoring compliance with the Treaty was unprecedented and still staggers the imagination. The E2 process, including development and coordination by dozens of high-class professionals from both parties, required an enormous amount of effort and time and consisted of about a hundred different notifications on the current state of strategic offensive arms, dozens of types of on-site inspections, and the exchange of telemetric information accompanied by the data needed for its decryption after each launch of an ICBM and a SLBM.

A brief summary of START I Inspection Protocol, which constitutes an integral part of the Treaty, gives a general idea of the monitoring system:

“The monitoring system defines 16 types of inspections, including baseline data inspections, new facility inspections, suspect-site inspections, inspections of the warheads of deployed ICBMs and SLBM, inspections in connection with conversion of items and exhibitions, etc.

The confidence-building measures include ten groups of 152 types of notifications. The system of information exchange between Russia and the United States under START I includes the following activities:

  • Periodical (once every six months) exchange of all categories of data on strategic offensive weapons and related facilities under the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the Data Base Relating to the Treaty
  • Broadcasting all telemetric information received during missile launches, and providing the tapes that contain a recording of such information together with the data related to its analysis
  • Providing notifications under START I that contain the current information on the strategic offensive arms and related facilities

Each party shall conduct distinguishability exhibitions in order to confirm the following data:

  • Technical characteristics of ICBMs and SLBMs of all types and all variants of each type
  • Technical characteristics of ICBM mobile launchers of all types and all variants of each type
  • Technical characteristics of heavy bombers and former heavy bombers of all types and all variants of each type
  • Technical characteristics of long-range air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) of all types and all variants of each type

The information transferred under the Memorandum shall include the following data:

  • Quantitative data on strategic offensive arms with indication of deployment location
  • Technical data on strategic offensive arms
  • Layouts of the location of deployed strategic offensive arms and related infrastructure
  • Photos of missiles, launchers, transport and installation vehicles, heavy bombers and submarines

The party conducting the flight test after each test shall provide the other Party with the following materials:

  • Tapes containing a recording of all telemetric information that is broadcast during the flight test
  • Tapes containing a recording of all encapsulated telemetric information if such tapes are preserved
  • Each tape summary.

Additionally, the Party conducting the flight test shall provide the other Party with data associated with the analysis of the telemetric information (description of the format of a telemetry frame and method of encryption) after each flight test”.

There has never been such transparency between recent adversaries on the most classified information. Even close allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, and France do not have this degree of openness in their relations now.

Seen in this light, all the regrets we hear about the current lack of mutual trust and the abstract wishes that it might be restored seem utterly useless: real trust is only achieved through maximum openness.

Not Only Limiting but Reducing

The unprecedented START I was ultimately signed, and this step can still be considered a model in relations between two recent adversaries. The treaty included Gorbachev’s original proposal to reduce both parties’ strategic arms by 50%. Indeed, the parties agreed to limit the number of nuclear warheads from 10,000-11,000 to 6,000.

The Treaty came into force only in 1994 because of the collapse of the USSR. As a result, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, where strategic arms were deployed, became the country’s START I successors. Some of the strategic arms had to be relocated to Russia, and some of them had to be liquidated. The process went fairly quickly in Belarus and Kazakhstan, while the Ukrainian government tried to sell its nuclear status at the highest price and insisted on compensation for weapons transferred to Russia.

Equal Concessions

Equally important and instructive was the implementation of the START I Treaty over 15 years, especially in view of criticism on its signing and implementation made by well-known “professionals”. When he was Russia's Minister of Defense, Anatoly Serdyukov expressly called the Treaty “treacherous,” and Sergei Mironov, the leader of the Just Russia party, described it as a “criminal treaty,” adding that he felt national humiliation when saw American inspectors in Votkinsk (under START I, the Americans watched the transportation of Topol-M missiles at the gates of the Votkinsk Machine Building Plant). It's a shame that Mironov did not talk to the American inspectors about what they felt when they saw our inspectors visiting the plant in Magna, Utah, under the same conditions.

These individuals’ level of historical and related subject knowledge, and perhaps their expertise in general, is impossible to assess. Their knowledge of the issue is not at zero. It is below zero, below the waterline. Their vision is distorted. They do not care that negotiations with the United States were conducted by the Soviet Union, which was not inferior to its strategic dialogue partner in military power or in global influence. The concessions from both sides were practically equal. And the professionalism of those who developed the contractual relations and negotiated the Treaty is described above.

Priceless Experience

The integral response to all criticisms of START I is that if we evaluate it from the standpoint of the time when it was signed, then the Soviet Strategic Nuclear Forces, which were reduced under the Treaty, actually increased their nuclear deterrence capacity, representing the potential effectiveness of a retaliatory strike, because the US Strategic Offensive Forces reduced their capacity for a potential disarming strike.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the positive significance of START I became even clearer. To understand this, it is enough to remember the state of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces by that time. In 1992, the nuclear triad of the former Soviet Union included just over 10,000 warheads a significant portion of which had been in service for a long time and had to be withdrawn from service for nuclear safety reasons. The numerous types of ground-based and marine-based missiles (eight types in each category) required significant and unjustified additional costs.

The Soviet Union’s collapse interrupted upgrades to existing ICBMs and the development of new ones, which were supposed to be dramatically more effective at overcoming the United States’ projected missile defense system. The repair of existing missile submarines and the construction of new ones, the improvement of SLBMs, and the upgrades to heavy bombers and ALCMs all significantly slowed down.

Russia’s strategic nuclear forces started to reduce naturally, independently of START I. By the time the Treaty came into force in December 1994, the number of nuclear triad warheads decreased to approximately 7,000 from 10,000, while the United States’ nuclear strategic arms remained almost unchanged and had to be reduced in future under START I. Therefore, the Treaty helped preserve a strategic nuclear balance with the United States even in circumstances that were critical for Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces and its military industrial complex.

It is fair to say that the New START signed in Prague would not be possible without START I.

One of the lessons we can take away from the START I process is that Russia can maintain nuclear balance with the United States as the last feature of a superpower by using contractual relations, despite the fact that the United States has much greater potential to preserve and develop nuclear weapons. As a document, START I will remain an encyclopedia of knowledge and experience that has already been used to prepare other treaties and which will be in demand in the future. The people who developed START I, some of whom have unfortunately passed away, can all be proud of their work. And, of course, none of this could have been achieved without Gorbachev’s decisiveness and deep understanding of the evolving situation.

Source: Novaya Gazeta