Moscow and INF: Why Is Russia Cheating?


2015-06-09 By Richard Weitz

In its just released report on foreign governments’ Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Non-proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, the U.S. State Department highlighted that the Russians are violating the INF treaty.

“The United States determined the cruise missile developed by the Russian Federation meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, and as such, all missiles of that type, and all launchers of the type used to launch such a missile, are prohibited under the provisions of the INF Treaty.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty prohibits Russia and the United States from developing, manufacturing, or deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers.

The Treaty permits both sides to possess sea- or air-launched cruise missiles within the ranges banned by the Treaty, but the parties may not test them from mobile ground-based launchers or deploy them on land.

The Russian response has always been to deny that they have tested any missile in violation of the treaty.

According to one participant in the Russian-U.S. exchanges on the issue, “so far, our discussion has been roughly like this. Hi, we have a concern, you violated the treaty.

They say, no, we haven’t. But no, you really have, and let us share some information with you about… no, you have to give us more information. We don’t know anything about it.”

Russian officials and media have been describing the U.S. INF allegations as, in the words of Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov on the state-owned RT television channel, “part of the anti-Russian campaign unleashed by Washington in connection with the Ukraine crisis.

And the US is ready to exploit any means to discredit Russia.”

A Russian GLCM is launched from an Iskander-K launcher at Kapustin Yar in 2007.
A Russian GLCM is launched from an Iskander-K launcher at Kapustin Yar in 2007.

Why is Russia violating the INF Treaty? There are several possible reasons.

Russian officials may be maneuvering to induce the United States into withdrawing from the INF Treaty, which they have long disliked.

From Moscow’s perspective, it would be better for Washington to bear the onus of formal withdrawal from the treaty so that other countries in general, and NATO allies in particular, would resist strong measures against Russia.

By pursuing this “soft exit” strategy from the INF and other arms control agreements, Russia can violate an agreement while placing on others the burden of either withdrawing from it, responding with counter-measures, or remaining compliant and constrained by an accord that Moscow is violating.

Prominent Russian national security officials, including President Putin, believe that the INF Treaty—along with NATO membership enlargement, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, and the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty—represents one of those unequal agreements that the collapsing Soviet Union and then the prostrate Russian Federation was compelled to accept.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has extended this complaint to cover more recent years.

Denying U.S. allegations of Russian treaty violations and accusing the U.S. government of lying and hypocrisy, the Ministry in 2014 charged that:

“Washington is systematically carrying out a plan to dismantle the global strategic stability system…The Americans started this process in 2001, by unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM treaty.

Now it is aggravated by a rapid and unlimited build-up of the US global missile defense system, an unwillingness to clean up the territory of other states from the US tactical nuclear arsenal deployed there, elaboration of a provocative strategy of Prompt Global Strike, and an excessive build-up of conventional weapons, including their offensive components.”

Of course, this victimization perspective makes Russian officials more comfortable violating these treaties.

In addition, Russia might want INF-range systems to attack the ballistic missile defense systems and conventional forces that NATO is deploying around Russia’s periphery.

Russia could use intermediate-range systems to deter and defeat potential threats from surrounding countries and counterbalance U.S. superiority in conventional forces and missile defenses.

Russian officials have long argued that, whereas the United States does not need such missiles to deter attacks from its neighbors Mexico and Canada, Russia is surrounded by countries–including India, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and China—that are acquiring large numbers of short- and intermediate-range missiles—states that have, or could soon have, nuclear weapons.

They also note that Russia is vulnerable from air strikes launched from these neighboring states.

The United States and Russia joined in a limited effort to induce other countries to adhere to the INF Treaty, but this campaign has so far involved little more than issuing an appeal at the U.N. General Assembly.

No other country has joined the Treaty beyond the United States and the Russian Federation (though some provisions apply to the other former Soviet republics).

It is possible that Russian leaders might have hoped that the United States would not soon discover the violation, especially if the plan was to develop the new system but not soon deploy it.

U.S. officials engaged in talks with the Russian officials and experts believe that only a small number of Russians originally knew about the program.

If Moscow had successfully concealed the violation, that would have decreased the prospects of a U.S. response.

Various U.S. experts believe that the Russian government may be violating other arms control agreements, such as the Biological Weapons Convention, the Vienna Document, and the Open Skies Agreement.

In addition, Russia has long been pursuing a variety of tactics to intimidate neighboring countries and undermine NATO’s cohesion.

In pursuit of these goals, Russian leaders have been threatening to attack countries that align themselves with NATO policies and have tried to win over West European leaders through sweetheart energy deals and other inducements.

Whatever the original reason for the deployment, Moscow may now hope that NATO governments will divide over how to respond to a new missile that only threatens the eastern members of the alliance.

While Poland and the Baltic states likely will favor a vigorous response, NATO members beyond the range of the new weapon might oppose a strong reaction.

Finally, Russian actions regarding INF, nuclear threats, and other issues suggest that they are pursuing a nuclear doctrine and modernization plan that differs from their published military doctrine, which continues to describe nuclear weapons as a weapon of last resort.

This experience underscores the importance of the “trust but verify” maxim that has always guided good U.S. arms control policies.

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