Russia Violates INF Treaty

Treaties agreed to by two nations, but followed only by one, are essentially worthless. In the case of nuclear arms, the observant country is placed at severe risk.

 A recent GOP study highlights Moscow’s noncompliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces deal.

 President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty in 1987. At the time, the United States canceled a number of weapon systems including the Pershing ballistic missile program, and Russia and the United States destroyed thousands of weapons.

 Since 2014, Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by developing a ground-launched cruise missile.

Former Secretary of State Pompeo joined NATO in declaring that Russia was in material breach of the treaty on December 4, 2018. Russia had 60 days to return to compliance and did not do so. On February 2, 2019, the United States suspended its compliance with the INF Treaty due to Russia taking no steps to address its violations.

Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was sharply evident when it began developing an intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missile. The INF Treaty prohibits ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, both nuclear and non-nuclear, with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, i.e., 300 to 3,400 miles. Moscow’s action poses a significant threat to NATO countries.

The problem has been building for some time. In 2014, Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary For Arms Control and International Security, testified to Congress that “Russia’s actions in Ukraine, increasingly confrontational posture, and violations of the INF and Conventional Forces in Europe treaties have undermined trust and must be addressed. While diplomacy between the United States and Russia continues, no one can ignore that Russia’s actions have undermined the very principles upon which cooperation is built.

Moscow’s actions were highlighted by Vladimir Putin himself, who, in his nation’s equivalent of the State of the Union address, essentially stated that he considered tactical nuclear weapons just another battlefield option.

The U.S. complied with the INF Treaty while Russia did not.  Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described how Russia violated the treaty by testing and flying a missile, the SSC-8, more than 500km. In recent months, Russia has deployed several operational battalions of the SSC-8 missile.

Any intermediate-range missile deployed in Russia poses significant risk to America’s European allies by making them much more vulnerable to a rapid attack. Russia would be able to threaten our allies in a way that we could not easily counter. The U.S. would be left with much weaker deterrence and defense capabilities.

In addition, China is not a party to the INF Treaty and is developing its own intermediate-range weapons. While the primary reason for withdrawing from the INF Treaty was Russia’s violations, U.S. defense experts remain deeply concerned about America’s inability to counter Chinese aggression without intermediate-range forces.

NATO nations were in support of America withdrawal from the INF Treaty, particularly following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declaration of Russia to be in “material breach.”

Last year, the Trump Administration began research and development of conventional ground-launched intermediate-range systems as part of its response to Russia’s violation of the treaty.

Currently, the U.S. relies primarily on high-yield nuclear weapons to respond to a nuclear attack. However, the Pentagon could accelerate development and fielding of low-yield nuclear weapons and sea-launched cruise missiles. By having a wide spectrum of response capabilities and weapons, the U.S. could enhance the capability to deter Russian aggression from a variety of sources.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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