18.02.2019 Author: Henry Kamens

Russia Should NOT Get Mad over “Alleged” INF Treaty Violations


Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Russian Council Committee on Foreign Affairs recently said, “The US has taken another step towards destroying the world.” Regardless we must agree that it was understatement, especially in light of all that is happening on Donald Trump’ watch.

There is a lot of rhetoric that is flying over the threatened bi-lateral repeal of the US, of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).  But with Russia now sensing America’s true intentions (in light of US threats), the RF has unilaterally withdrawn.  This action has put the US and the Trump Administration in a pickle.

The intensity of the recriminations on both sides makes one question the motivation as for why the US was conveniently trying to escape this treaty by blaming the Russians for evading it. However, what is more interesting is to figure out whether there is some domestic political influence, or even pressure from arms manufacturers, who obviously see the demise of any such treaty as a windfall—to get back to the arms race of madness—at least at first impression.

Dr. Strangelove

At least from a layperson’s perspective, would it not be better to document such violations an­­­­d force Russia back into compliance?  But that would defeat the purpose of withdrawing from it—and it is becoming more and more apparent that the US desperately wants another Cold War era-like arms race maybe at the behest of its powerful arms-lobby.

The ground was well prepared, with the messenger of this ominous news, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claiming last year that the US would be totally withdrawing from the treaty in six months “if Moscow fails to end its [alleged] violation of the accord. However, Moscow denies violating the landmark 1987 arms control treaty, which bans either side from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe.

The United States claimed that a new Russian cruise missile violates the pact. The missile in question, the Novator 9M729, also known as the SSC-8 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This is debatable but highly likely the “real motivation” for it to enable the US to deploy similar missiles in Asia and to target these towards China.

It comes as no surprises that the Russian President Vladimir Putin took a protective reactionary step by suspending the INF Treaty in retaliation to the US’s decision to suspend it at some point in the future.

It was already clear that in spite of all allegations and claims that the US wanted to get Russia to comply, it actually wanted to get out of the treaty.  So, it came as no surprise that on Dec. 4, 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States had found Russia in “material breach” of the treaty and would suspend its treaty obligations unless Russia complies within six months.

The US has used that threat more for domestic consumption than anything else. However much of the fanfare has to do with China, and US intentions to deploy such a range of missiles, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers in Asia so as to counter it.

China Card

Perhaps naively many US defense policymakers are of the opinion that by scrapping the arms control agreement it will be easier to contain the growth of Chinese power. However, that is but a short-term dream, as without allied support, leaving the treaty will only weaken US relationships and play into Beijing’s hands. As one Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report makes it only too clear “Leaving the INF Treaty Won’t Help Trump Counter China.”

Russia has put the US is a defensive position now, calling it on its bluff to withdraw; and now the US will have to explain to its allies why it was willing to play Russian Roulette with Asian regional security.

“We will proceed as follows. Our response will be reciprocal. US partners have announced that they were suspending their participation in the [INF] Treaty, and we are suspending it as well. They have announced that they are engaged in research and development, and we will do the same thing,” Putin said at a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

US policymakers would be better advised to stop trying to play “Game Theory” and listen to the experts.  As the above-captioned report makes obvious, before withdrawing from the INF Treaty, the United States should have consulted with its Asian allies on the threat posed by China, the defenses required, and the consequences of introducing American offensive missiles into the region, including potentially on allied territory.

But that is a moot issue for now, as Russia has by withdrawing from the treaty put the US in a defensive situation with not only Asian allies but even many NATO partner countries as well, who do not wish to see Russia deploying missiles near their borders as a defensive measure.

Now Russia is free to work on a new generation of missiles, including hypersonic ones. Putin has made it clear that talks in recent years have been one-sided and nonproductive. “We have seen that our partners have not supported our initiatives,” he once lamented.

It is also clear and confirmed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has also accused the United States of violating the INF treaty and other arms deals, such as the non-proliferation treaty. He also noted in recent statements that the US has been in breach of the nuclear deal since 1999 when it started testing combat drones.

It is clear that now the US is on the defensive, and its bluff has been called, Putin has made it clear that it won’t deploy its new weapons in Europe and other regions unless the United States does so first.

It is also clear why NATO, which received its lion’s share of funding supporting Trump’s rhetoric, has to justify why it has put Western European countries to such threats as seen only during the Cold War – and all because it has to support any US policy, right or wrong.

These are words that NATO member states may have to eat, “NATO fully supports the United States’ pending withdrawal notice from the INF nuclear missile pact over Russia’s actions.”

It is clear that Russia can play the same game, knowing its true intentions. Now the US and its spokespersons’ are not only going to have to answer to officials in NATO but also to Europeans who now know that they are now at a greater risk than any time in the last 30 years.

The United States first publicly accused Moscow of violating the INF Treaty in 2014 but never has it been able to offer any solid proof to back up its claims. However, in fact, it is the US that wants itself out of this treaty, not because of Russia or its [alleged] violations but because of its China and |Iranian policy.

It is going to be interesting to see how the new dynamics is going to play out in the coming weeks. I would go back to the question, is the world safer with or without this treaty, and who really benefits the most from the demise of a landmark Cold War nuclear arms control agreement?

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.