RIP INF Treaty, an Agreement Violated in Moscow and Buried in Washington 

While public attention was focused on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, little noted was the 17 January Missile Defense Review (MDR), which outlines the United States’ current ability to protect its citizens and allies against possible ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missile threats posed by Russia, China, and the “rogue states” of Iran and North Korea. The response from Russia has been one of alarm driven in part by the Review’s reclassification of the Kremlin from a possible partner to a potential threat – a sharp pivot reflecting the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Moscow.

The 2019 Review takes a much tougher line toward dealing with threats to the United States than the previous version of the report released in
2010. The earlier report did not suggest that the United States considered methods that “will degrade, disrupt, or destroy an adversary’s missiles before they are launched”—also known as attack operations. The new edition includes an entire section dedicated to these methods, which are to be used in case diplomacy and deterrence do not succeed. The report also mentions that they can be used in a conflict with “a rogue state.” Towards relations with Russia specifically, the 2010 and 2019 MDRs present two completely different assessments. The earlier edition highlighted Russia’s role as a potential partner in missile defense. It went so far as to say, “with Russia, it [the Administration] is pursuing a broad agenda focused on shared early warning of missile launches, possible technical cooperation, and even operational cooperation.” By contrast, the 2019 assessment highlights Russia’s “revisionist” tendencies and reminds readers of the Kremlin’s illegal occupation of foreign territory, attempts to destabilize Western democracies, and repeated threats of a nuclear first strike against U.S. allies.

The Russian Foreign Ministry strongly
criticized the MDR, issuing a press release referring to it as “provoking concern,” “frankly confrontational in nature,” and “irresponsible.” It warned of the destabilizing effect that the proposed U.S. actions would have on international security and said that they would inevitably lead to the beginning of what it called “a new arms race.” Within hours of the MDR release, Russian news sources published articles claiming that the U.S. was attempting to start a second Star Wars – a reference to the Cold War-era Strategic Defense Initiative.

What apparently is of particular
concern to the Kremlin is the MDR’s repeated assertion that “the United States will not accept any limitations on the development or deployment of missile defense capabilities.” This statement, while powerful on its own, carries additional importance due to the recent announcement that the U.S. will be leaving the 1987 INF Treaty due to alleged Russian violations surrounding the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile. Without the INF, the United States would be free to install more advanced missiles and missile defense systems in Europe—something the Kremlin could not easily match. Thus, the aforementioned statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry ends with language recognizing “the clear need for a full-format Russian-American dialogue related to arms control and international security” and to say that “they are ready for such a format.”

Following last week’s
NATO-Russia Council meeting convened to discuss the fate of the INF Treaty, the Kremlin reiterated its claimed desire for a new bilateral talks regarding missiles and missile defense. According to Russian sources, Russian representatives at the meeting stressed the need to work together with the United States to iron out their differences. These calls for renewed discussion suggest that the Kremlin might be willing to make concessions. Moscow, for example, might be willing to reassure Washington's concerns regarding the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile, the nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missile systems, or the newly proposed hypersonic glide vehicle, the Avangard, which could evade current U.S. missile defenses. However, it is at least as likely that the Kremlin’s cooperative tone at the Council was part of a strategy intended to use the negotiating table as a way to bargain away the technological and resource advantages possessed by the United States.

On 1 February, President Trump announced that the United States is ready to
withdraw from the INF treaty, beginning a six-month process of extraction. During this period, Moscow is likely to put forward additional proposals to get Washington to remain in the agreement as well as continue to develop countermeasures to deal with what it considers a more threatening strategic environment. These measures could include Kremlin propaganda campaigns to cast doubt on U.S. intentions and heighten European skepticism for Washington’s strategic plans to withdraw from the INF.

Europe's Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis. 

Photo: Military parade on Red Square” by 

Jackie Mahler

Donald N. Jensen
1 February 2019

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