On December 10th, at a Congressional hearing, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller said that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). The State Department undersecretary told the panel that current US countermeasures include both military actions (such as missile defense systems) and the so-called “three-pronged approach” involving diplomacy and even possible economic sanctions. In retaliation for the treaty’s violation, the Pentagon might consider re-deployment of nuclear cruise missiles in Europe as well. “We don’t have ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe now obviously because they’re prohibited by the treaty,” said Brian P. McKeon, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, at the hearing, “but that would obviously be one option to explore.”
In light of the tensions over the Ukrainian crisis, Russia’s reckless behavior in the Baltic, its continuous support of the Assad regime in Syria, its disproportionately large defense budget, and now its new military doctrine, U.S. concerns should be taken quite seriously.
Russia and U.S. have accused each other of cheating on arms control agreements for years now. As early as 2008, Washington first raised its concerns surrounding Russia’s testing of its R500 cruise missile, which has a range long enough to violate the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) treaty. In May 2013, the Obama administration officially voiced its concerns with the Russians. In late July 2014, the administration finally provided its official finding that Russia was “in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”
Russian officials, however, responded with their own allegations; claiming that Aegis Missile Defense System sites being deployed by Americans in Romania and Poland breach prior treaty obligations. Although their purported purpose is to intercept Iranian missiles, Russia worries that they are actually designed to intercept Russian missiles. Meanwhile, according to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Ministry never received a clear answer to Russian questions, nor was it provided with any evidence that such a deployment was permitted.
“As far as we know”, says Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, in his email to the IMR, “Russia has not begun the deployment of the ground-launched cruise missile tested. And even if it did, it is difficult to understand why this would be a militarily significant enhancement of Russia’s capabilities, considering the hundreds of nuclear-tipped warheads it can already deliver at INF ranges from its strategic missile arsenal.” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, adds that “punitive actions are mainly something being pushed by the hardliners in Congress.”
It is also fair to assume that given the current situation of economic slowdown, currency crisis, Western pressure and diplomatic isolation, President Putin feels entrapped – a miserable situation that the headstrong leader has never felt before. Placed under such circumstances, he may believe that Russia is in no shape to compete with the Western democracies economically, however, in military terms, Russia is still a nation to feared and respected. «Putin is a ‘He-man’ under the squeeze”, comments Mr.Kristensen in his email to IMR, “and some of his defense plans will have to be scaled back, so he’s perhaps trying to be more dramatic than he actually is.” Given Putin’s unpredictability, this creates a dangerous situation. Therefore, it is in the United States’ interests to make sure that Russia stays in compliance with major treaties and does not cross any red lines.
By its strident warnings, the United States is seeking to bring Russia to the negotiations table, rather than fomenting a military snafu. “I believe the Obama administration would be very reluctant to deploy new weapons banned by the treaty and most potential host-nations even more so,” notes Mr. Thielmann. “Instead,” he continues, “the administration is likely to continue efforts to persuade Moscow to cease prohibited activities and avoid giving it an excuse to back out of the INF Treaty.”
Gottemoeller said President Obama has written a letter to Russian President Putin about the treaty violation. However, she did not specify how long the United States would wait before taking action in response to the alleged violation. One way or another, without resolution of the issue soon, “it could eventually lead to enhancements of U.S. military capabilities — but more for political rather than military reasons”, says Mr. Theilmann.