INF Threatened: Back to Worst Days of Cold War?
Andrei AKULOV | 11.06.2015 | FEATURED STORY

INF Threatened: Back to Worst Days of Cold War?

The US administration is considering a range of moves to counter Russia's alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), including bolstering missile defense capability or even going as far as deploying land-based missiles in Europe, according to AP report on June 4. Washington has accused Russia of testing a ground-based cruise missile in violation of bilateral arms control treaty. 

The State Department said last July that Russia had tested a missile in violation of INF, which bans indefinitely the possession, production and flight-testing of missiles — both nuclear and conventional — with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles). US Defense Secretary Ash Carter raised his concern in February about Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty’s terms. The administration has not said whether it believes the Russian missile is nuclear or conventional.

The United States is mulling an array of potential responses, including deploying missile systems in Europe capable of delivering a pre-emptive strike against Russia. 

Robert Scher, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, told lawmakers in April that one option could be to beef up defenses of potential targets of the Russian cruise missile. A second option could «look at how we could go about and actually attack that missile where it is in Russia», Scher said. And a third option would be «to look at what things we can hold at risk within Russia itself», the official explained. His comments appeared to signal employing forces to strike at other Russian military targets — apart from the missiles that allegedly violate the INF accord. 

The Associated Press was given an unclassified portion of a report written by the office of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that examines weapons the U.S. could develop and deploy if freed from INF treaty constraints. It identified four such weapons that «could assist in closing... a capability gap».

Among the four are ground-launched cruise missiles deployed in Europe or Asia, and ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missiles equipped with technology that adjusts the trajectory of a warhead after it re-enters Earth's atmosphere and heads for its target

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says the UK could site new American nuclear missiles on British soil.

The comments raise the prospect of a return to a Cold War-type arms race when Washington's NATO allies hosted U.S. ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing 2 ballistic missiles countering Soviet SS-20 missiles. The U.S.-NATO response prompted a Europe-wide protest movement, followed by U.S.-Soviet negotiations leading to the INF treaty, the first to ban an entire class of missile.

Russia states its position on the issue

Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations, and has accused the United States of deploying defense systems in Romania and Poland with capabilities that violate the Treaty. 

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, Mikhail Ulyanov, described Washington’s claims as groundless. «The United States refuses to provide facts to back up the charges. Or, which is more likely, it is unable to do that. One has the impression that the real aim is to discredit Russia and to make it look like a state that violates its international obligations», Ulyanov said.

Russia is fully complying with commitments made under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and does not want to withdraw from it, Viktor Ozerov, the Chairman of the Federation Council on Defense and Security. However, if the United States decides to put its missiles in Eastern Europe, Russia will seriously consider pulling out of the agreement, he added.

If Washington deploys its missiles in Eastern Europe, its objective wouldn't be to target sites in the Middle East, but to fire at Russia from a close distance, Ozerov noted, adding that in this case Russia will have to respond with force.

The Russian Defense Ministry has requested explanations from the Pentagon over recent statements by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to the effect the United States might deploy in Europe and Asia its cruise and ballistic missiles that might be targeted against Russia, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said. «The Russian Defense Ministry is conducting scrupulous analysis of information regarding compliance with the INF treaty coming from different sources. Certainly, we took note of these publications in the Western press. In order to obtain official reaction from the American side we have dispatched a request through military-diplomatic channels for explanations of the Pentagon’s positions regarding statements reportedly made by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. «The measures mentioned by US sources would be tantamount to the United States’ walkout from the INF treaty», the official emphasized.

Last summer the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its concern over the US violation of the treaty. The statement says, «We have a lot of claims to the United States in the context of the Treaty. These are tests of target-missiles of missile defence, which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles, production of armed drones by the Americans, which evidently are covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty. The topic of Mk-41 launch systems, which the United States intend to deploy in Poland and Romania within the framework of the implementation of their «stage-by-stage adaptive approach» to the deployment of a global missile defence, has been quite topical lately. These launch systems can launch intermediate-range cruise missiles, but their ground-launched version can be perceived as a direct violation of the INF Treaty».

What US moves could lead to

The US plans pose a clear threat to Russia. Deploying new offensive medium-range missiles on the territory of its allies in Europe makes it possible to strike deep into the Russian territory thanks to NATO’s enlargement eastward. An American mid-range weapon launched from Poland or the Czech Republic would require only a short flight time to reach beyond the Urals. As a result, a serious strategic imbalance would appear, not to mention the beginning of an entirely new, and what recently seemed forgotten, phase of confrontation with the West. Russia will have to respond as its officials have already warned. 

Since the USA is going ahead with its plans to develop an anti-missile «shield» in Europe, Russia would respond by deploying the Iskander short-range missiles in the region of Kaliningrad and along its western borders to acquire the capability of striking forward deployed NATO assets.

For America nuclear strikes against Russia are unthinkable anyway because it would guarantee a disastrous on response against the territory of the continental USA. The danger of miscalculations and miscommunications leading to all-out war will be immensely heightened. 

Washington cannot present compelling evidence of the Russian violation, the United States could be seen by the world as the party that killed the INF Treaty. The U.S. military currently has no intermediate-range missiles ready for deployment at its disposal. Such missiles would take years to design and build taking funds from other pressing defense priorities. The implementation of plans would inevitably create political problems as the opposition will be strong in the countries to host the weapons. It makes the endeavor a tall order. 

The whole thing has a certain Cold War ring. It would most certainly worsen the bilateral US-Russian relationship, which is already at a low point. It is bound to further complicate the prospects of additional reductions of nuclear weapons. The plans could hamper President Obama’s efforts to win congressional support for his Iran policy.