Will the INF Treaty Be Kept Beyond Its 30th Anniversary? (III)

 Part I, part II

Part 3. Russia’s stance on the future of the INF Treaty

Russia feels that the current, inauspicious environment of noncompliance with the INF Treaty is cause for alarm, given Washington’s continued, systematic, and methodical chipping away at this system of global strategic stability.

The onset of that process began in 2002, when Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which ensured strategic stability through the creation of a strategic balance of offensive and defensive weapons.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly criticized the State Department reports, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, which, among other things, voiced grievances against Russia owing to the supposed breaches of its commitments under the INF Treaty.

Moscow has primarily taken issue with these documents because they have never offered any specific details to back up these claims, instead merely reiterating the main articles of the 1987 treaty and adding various unproven allegations.

There has never been any clarification of the substance of either the American complaints or the comments of US officials who refer to some sort of “classified intelligence.” For this reason the Russian Foreign Ministry has declared its willingness to help the American diplomats correct this omission, at one time reminding them that objectivity and accuracy should always be prioritized over creative writing.

Russia contends that the “information” that the US previously submitted to Moscow via diplomatic channels, which allegedly should have made it possible for the Russians to identify the missile in question, was in fact incomplete, fragmentary data that in no way clarified the basis for the American complaints. In Russian governmental and political circles, it is a matter of serious concern that representatives of a number of US agencies are using these “facts” as a pretext for trotting out yet another justification for potential “countermeasures” in response to Russian “violations” of the 1987 treaty.

Russia has often stated that the two types of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles cited by the US as “violations” of the INF Treaty, namely the mobile, ground-based RS-12M or Topol-M (SS-25) missiles, as well as the new RS-26 ICBM also known as the Rubezh, have never been classified as intermediate- or short-range missiles, since their flying range exceeds the maximum ceiling of 5,500 km defined by the Gorbachev-Reagan agreement. For this reason, these two ICBMs are only subject to the terms of a treaty of a different format and content, namely New START, which was signed in 2010.

The mobile launcher for RS-26 Rubezh
The mobile launcher for RS-26 Rubezh

Likewise, the 1987 agreement is in no way applicable to the operational R-500 missile, nor does that missile have anything to do with that agreement, since its maximum firing range falls below the minimum of 500 km, as defined by that treaty.

Moreover, the Russians have long reminded Washington that it is in fact the US that is breaching its treaty commitments under quite a number of arms-control agreements.

As early as Jan. 4, 2001, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued its first statement noting that the US, in violation of the INF Treaty, has a history of manufacturing a new type of ground-based, medium-range ballistic target missiles, known as Hera, based on the second and third stages of the Minuteman II ICBMs. However, the US side has offered no satisfactory response to this charge yet.

A similar statement, but broader in scope, was made by the Russian Foreign Ministry nine years later. In August 2010, it announced that the US were systematically violating the main provisions of the INF Treaty by using target missiles to fine-tune components of their missile-defense systems that simulate not only ballistic missiles such as Hera, but also LRALTs (long-range air-launch target missiles) and MRTs (medium-range targets). The Russian diplomatic office pointed out that under the 1987 agreement, the launch of such missiles qualifies as a test of a “new type” of intermediate-range land-based missile, which is a violation of Article VI of that treaty.

During the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States armed forces have often stated that they have routinely used short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles (the American side defines medium-range as between 1,000 and 3,000 km, while intermediate-range is 3,000–5,500) as target missiles while conducting operational tests to assess the effectiveness of the interceptors that are part of the US global missile-defense system.

This has been confirmed by official statements made by every director of the Missile Defense Agency of the US Department of Defense since 2001 at hearings before various Senate and House committees. On an ongoing basis since 2001, i.e., since active testing began of missile-defense systems in the US, the Pentagon has conducted 92 tests of its “missile shield,” using a full array of short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles as targets for its intercept tests.

Similar tests will continue in the US in 2018, and, hence, so will their violations of the INF Treaty, since the same types of dummy missiles of this range will again be used as targets for interception.

Moscow has been reminding Washington that the MK 41 multi-mission launchers used at American missile-defense sites in Romania and Poland that are equipped with the Aegis Ashore command and control system will be used to launch intermediate-range, land-based cruise missiles – a direct violation of the INF Treaty. It is important to remember that similar launchers were positioned in Romania back in May of 2016 and more should be in place in Poland by December of 2018.

US combat drones, which can also be loaded into the MK 41 launchers, are another problem for the INF Treaty, as they meet the 1987 agreement’s definition of land-based cruise missiles. The United States has added drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs) such as the Predator, Raptor, Global Hawk, and others to its arsenal, which under the treaty are all classified as ground-based cruise missiles, regardless of the fact that they were produced and pressed into service after that agreement had been signed. Heavy UAVs of this type, which carry aircraft ordnance, clearly qualify as aerodynamic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km, which are prohibited by the INF Treaty.

In the future it might well be possible to load “dual-capable” launchers of this type with the high-precision, hypersonic weaponry developed by the Pentagon for its Prompt Global Strike program.

The US has repeatedly provided official confirmation of the fact that it is using short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles as targets to test the effectiveness of its interceptor missile-defense systems.

The US claims that it takes too much time to reload the designated weapons and to change the computer programs required for their launch do not ring true, given the fact that similar types of US Navy sea-based launchers are loaded simultaneously with four types of missiles for various purposes, namely anti-surface, anti-aircraft, anti-submarine, and land attack missiles. No one has to specifically go in and change the electronic programming in order to fire them under combat conditions. That is already included for each missile.

Two central themes can be seen in the attempts of the US side to accuse Russia of “violating” the 1987 treaty: one is designed for a domestic audience, while the other is intended for external consumption.

The domestic motif consists of distracting attention from both the tests of the newest US ballistic missile defense systems as well as from the production of a new intermediate-range, land-based cruise missile.

Prior to the 2016 US presidential election, the Republican lawmakers’ second motif at home was their desire to pressure the Democratic Party by demanding that Barack Obama identify at any cost the ways in which Russia had violated the INF Treaty.

But once Donald Trump won the election, new faces stepped forward to play the part of the accusers: now the Democrats were the ones heaping abuse on the Republican administration of Donald Trump, claiming that it was not offering a robust response to Russia’s “violations” of the 1987 treaty.

The recurring themes in the foreign policy of the Republican and Democratic congressmen were evident in their attempts to use any means to prevent the Russian Federation from getting highly effective intercontinental missiles that could reliably prevail over any type of integrated American and transatlantic anti-missile system: both by employing a missile-defense system, in the form of sea- and land-based interceptors, that steady advances on the borders of Russia and other states, as well as by relying on the ground-based system that has long been deployed inside the continental US.

This can be seen in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act,, which has its sights squarely set on Russia’s RS-26 ICBM. And one way to get rid of it – which Washington is already using – is easily evident: first, Moscow is forced to believe that the US is prepared to produce a new ground-launched cruise missile, but then Washington is apparently willing to abandon that venture if the Russians will get rid of an already existing missile of an entirely different class. But the days when an obvious trick like that would have worked are long past.

It can also be presumed that the song and dance about Moscow’s alleged ongoing violations of the 1987 treaty is an attempt by the US to distract the global community from the problem of the Americans’ ongoing stockpiling of tactical nuclear weapons on the European continent, despite the fact that Russia already withdrew all its nuclear weapons of that class from three former Soviet republics (Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine) back in the mid-1990s.

The question then arises: why does President Donald Trump need such a clearly counterproductive brouhaha over these unproven Russian violations of the INF Treaty, not to mention the array of threats that no high-ranking American officials had ever before issued in such an openly provocative way? One gets the impression that they are advancing contrived accusations against Russia only to divert attention from the American violations listed above, creating a kind of “smokescreen.”

Clearly there is another, more dangerous implication, when viewed from a foreign-policy perspective.

Washington is looking for a chance to launch a first nuclear strike – without repercussions – against Russia, China, Iran, and other states with their own views about the future world order. The White House, as the American press has noted, is considering three options for its military response to Russia’s INF “violations”: developing defensive, i.e., anti-ballistic systems; launching a preemptive strike against any weapons that violate the treaty; and using “nuclear weapons to destroy military targets” on enemy territory.

At the same time, it must be remembered that US strategic nuclear forces are retaining their same offensive doctrine that allows for a first preemptive or preventative nuclear strike against a whole group of states, while unconstrainedly expanding the capability of their global missile-defense system.

It’s a safe bet that America’s threatening actions within the context of the implementation of the INF Treaty will prompt countermeasures from many states and will heighten the risk of conflicts. When one side makes flagrantly destabilizing moves without taking into account the other side’s security interests, it is natural to see some pushback. As a result, once the balance of power and the strategic equation are restored, it is at a more weaponized level and the balance that is achieved is more precarious. This means a higher risk of a revival of military confrontations such as were seen in Berlin and Cuba.

Russia is still happy to take a look at any tangible evidence that is giving the Americans reason to believe that Moscow has “violated” something under the 1987 treaty. But Moscow has no intention whatsoever of breaking this treaty, which for the last 30 years has been inhibiting the potentially dangerous proliferation of two classes of nuclear weapons within the arsenals of the world’s leading nuclear powers.

In light of the current situation, Russia has plans for discussions with the US on a whole range of substantive issues related to reducing armaments and limiting military interactions between Russia and the United States.

These “other substantive issues” include:

the fact that since the summer of 2014 all three types of American strategic heavy bombers – the B-1B, B-52H, and B-2A – have been stationed in Europe and have taken part in various NATO military exercises

the fact that the US is equipping its strategic delivery vehicles with conventionally-armed cruise missiles (four Ohio-class submarines have already been converted, giving each of them the capacity to carry up to 154 such missiles)

the cache of American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and Asia that are being radically updated and furnished with more advanced delivery systems

the potential deployment in Romania and Poland of not only US ground-based missile-defense systems in multi-mission launchers, but also interceptors, long-range cruise missiles, and long-range high-precision hypersonic weapons

NATO’s significant advantage over Russia in terms of general-purpose forces, the positioning of new military bases and heavy weapons near Russia’s borders, and also the staging of large-scale military exercises of an offensive nature

the prevention of any weaponization of space.

There are also other issues Moscow might bring up with Washington that are directly tied to the American attempts to avoid resolving a whole host of other arms-control problems. And that includes more than a dozen genuine grievances over US noncompliance with current treaties and agreements, in addition to those problems for which they make no effort to find solutions based on the principle of equality and equal security for all sides.

At the same time, Moscow is still prepared to hold an honest and substantive dialog with the Americans in order to allay any concerns over arms control, which would include any misgivings related to the INF Treaty.

As has been repeatedly pointed out at the highest levels of the Russian government, (in particular, during the Valdai International Discussion Forum in Sochi on Oct. 19, 2017), Moscow does not intend to initiate the termination of the current INF Treaty, but it will respond commensurately should the US move to do so.

Vladimir Putin Valdai Discussion Club 2017

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