Page 3 of 3   <      

START expiration ends U.S. inspection of Russian nuclear bases

"Now we don't get any of that information. We have less and less visibility into their status of forces," said Ned Williams, the director of the center. (Notifications of missile test launches have continued, to ensure that neither side mistakenly thinks a nuclear attack is underway.)

Few experts dispute the value of having inspections. But some critics have argued that New START is not as good as its predecessor.

The Obama administration "agreed to gut the monitoring and verification measures and limitations necessary to render it effectively verifiable," said Paula DeSutter, the assistant secretary of state for verification in the George W. Bush administration.

For example, she said, the Obama administration acquiesced to a Russian demand to exchange less telemetry -- the flight data from ballistic missile tests. That information helps U.S. officials understand the number of warheads the Russians will load onto their missiles. Under New START, the Russians are required to provide the data from only five tests, instead of all 10 or 12 they do annually.

U.S. officials say the change is not significant because, under the new treaty, they will be counting the number of warheads on missiles and not using estimates, as was the case before. They contend that the new treaty will help each side get a more accurate count by assigning an ID number to each warhead and launcher.

Although U.S. nuclear inspectors are not traveling to Russia these days, they are busy training, sometimes with mock "Russian" inspectors.

The idea, Smith said, is "to make sure when we're called upon to do this, we're ready to go."

<          3

© 2010 The Washington Post Company