American officials have confirmed that Russia has been violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The INF Treaty was concluded in 1987 and prohibits all ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Pointing to official Russian media sources, defense analysts Mark Schneider and Keith Payne contend that Russia has been developing and testing both. Furthermore, Russian officials regularly threaten to unilaterally withdraw from the INF Treaty. Even Vladimir Putin hinted at this as early as 2007.
How should the U.S. respond? According to Michaela Dodge, The Heritage Foundation’s policy analyst for defense and strategic policy, the U.S. should strengthen transatlantic partnerships, particularly through sustained missile defense improvements. In particular, the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, set to deploy in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018), should remain on track. The U.S. should also re-evaluate its strategic posture and embrace a “protect and defend” strategy while continuing to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad.
Thomas Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the U.S. should “respond firmly through diplomatic and other means, take concrete steps to hedge against formal or informal treaty lapse, and finally take to heart the lessons learned about Russia’s troubling arms control record.” It might be prudent, Karako suggests, to remind Putin that the coming Aegis Ashore systems could be adapted to defeat INF-range cruise missiles.
But the Obama Administration’s passivity is just as much at fault for encouraging Russia’s blatant violations. Former Senators Jon Kyl (R–AZ) and Kit Bond (R–MO) write that “the Obama White House’s non-response to this violation has contributed to Putin’s perception of U.S. indecision and weakness.”
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton stated that President Obama’s failure to confront Russia early on only made the Administration look inept and submissive in the face of Russia’s treaty violations: “It forms a pattern of Russian behavior under Putin that is very threatening to American interests.”
Clearly, Russia cares little for international norms and agreements. President Obama’s approach of simply hoping for Moscow’s compliance in arms control agreements, coupled with a lack of enforcement, makes for a poor policy. “After all,” Senators Kyl and Bond ask, “if the enforcement of nuclear weapons arms control obligations is not worth the attention of the President of the United States, what is the point of the obligations?”
Harrison Menke is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, pleaseclick here.