Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to Respond to Russia’s INF Treaty Violation

Gary J. Schmitt, James M. Cunningham,

image from

When The New York Times reported that Russia had likely deployed a nuclear-armed cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, declared the treaty “in tatters” and the deployment a lesson “about the price of not confronting aggression.” Unable to generate a policy response from the Obama administration, Chairman Thornberry and his committee have now inserted provisions in their annual defense policy bill directing a more controversial response: not only must the administration establish a program to develop a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) and review options for modifying existing missiles for this purpose, but it also must conduct a 15 month review of Russian actions to determine if the Federation has, in each of three consecutive 120-day periods, been in violation of the treaty. 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), INF measure included, passed through the committee with a resounding 60–1 margin and was passed by the House of Representatives last week, but it is not so popular in the White House. The Trump administration objects to the committee’s provisions on the treaty, arguing it already is “developing an integrated diplomatic, military, and economic response strategy.” The NDAA’s mandates would, the White House says, limit US military response options and “raise concerns among NATO allies.”
In the latter concern, the administration has a point. Despite Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty, as well as its nuclear modernization efforts and integration of nuclear weapons into its strategic and European theater exercises, the House Armed Services Committee is considerably out front of the political leadership and publics of most U.S. allies. To put it bluntly, there is no consensus within the alliance of how to respond to the Russian violation and its nuclear threats. And the failure to create one before taking such dramatic steps as the House is putting forward could, in fact, make it more difficult, not easier, to address the underlying strategic problem the alliance is facing. ...
[T]the US ... [need not] abandon the INF Treaty just yet . ... This is not to argue that the US should not pull out of the treaty if Russia remains noncompliant. But before it does so, the US and its more willing allies must engage in a great deal of public diplomacy if we are to avoid causing unnecessary and counterproductive fractures within the alliance.

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