Arms control, Enron style

It’s not a New START. It’s a False START.

It’s funny. The United States (and Russia) agree that when placed on bomber aircraft, as many as twenty warheads count as one. They then announce that the New START treaty has reduced the binding caps on deployed warheads by 30% and congratulate themselves. The New York Times helpfully informs us that the “history of arms control is replete with quirky counting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and the “New Start” treaty completed last week is no different.”

That’s like saying that the history of Wall Street is replete with quirky accounting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and Enron is no different.

The experts it quotes do a much better job in describing this scam.

“It’s creative accounting,” said Pavel Podvig, a longtime arms researcher from Russia who is now on leave from Stanford University. “They found a way of making reductions without actually making them, and they were happy to accept that because nobody wanted to go to more serious measures.”

“On paper, the White House has been saying it’s a 30 percent cut in warheads” said Kingston Reif, deputy director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. “Well, it is on paper. But when you break it down, you see that the cut isn’t quite as significant.”

Although the United States now has about 2,100 deployed strategic warheads, about 450 would not be counted, Mr. Kristensen estimated. Similarly, 860 of Russia’s 2,600 warheads would not count. To meet the treaty limit, he said the United States would need to cut just 100 warheads and Russia just 190. [NYT]

Let’s put this in perspective: under the New START treaty the number of US warheads “not counted” is around the same as China’s entire nuclear arsenal.

Just remember this the next time Mr Obama gives a rousing speech on nuclear disarmament. At this time though, White House officials are apparently engaged in trying to justify why nuclear warheads on bombers are somehow more okay than nuclear warheads on missiles. Will they accept this reasoning if it came from Tehran?

Related Links: Marko Beljac at The Nuke Strategy Wonk and Pavel Podvig at his Russian strategic nuclear forces blog

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