WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Fifteen years of U.S. inspections of Russian nuclear bases has ended with the expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, officials said.
The frequent inspections stopped with the expiration of the treaty in December, and a new pact signed by both countries in April is stalled in the U.S. Senate, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
If the replacement treaty is held up by long delays, or if the Senate votes it down, the United States will lose critical insight into Russia's nuclear forces and capabilities, officials say.
"The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed December 5, is very serious and impacts our national security," Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., one of the Senate's top nuclear experts, said in a recent hearing.
The possible impact of a lapse in nuclear checks has been lost amid debates of issues such as whether the new pact would inhibit U.S. missile defense programs, analysts say.
"I thought we were just going to continue doing business as usual" as the replacement treaty was debated, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said when asked about the inspection cutoff.
Two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russia still has about 2,500 deployed nukes capable of hitting the United States, and U.S. officials say they like to keep an eye on them.
"Without the (new) treaty and its verification measures, the United States would have much less insight into Russian strategic forces, thereby requiring our military to plan based on worst-case assumptions," Jim Miller, a senior nuclear policy official in the Pentagon, told a Senate hearing last month.
"This would be an expensive and potentially destabilizing approach."