In October of 2018, then Secretary of Defense James Mattis was involved in lengthy discussions with Russian diplomats and NATO allies relative to the future of US-Russia nuclear non-proliferation. The focus of these discussions, in particular, was the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and the violations alleged by the US and NATO to have been made by Russia. For years, the US has asserted that Russia’s 9M729 ground launched missile system violates the provisions for maximum effective range. Russia, on the other hand, denies such assertions, and has on several occasions made similar assertions concerning the presence of US defensive missile systems in Europe.
When discussions stalemated, Mattis returned to Washington to report that little or no real progress was made. It was soon after that President Trump made the troubling announcement that unless Russia agrees to come into full INF compliance, the US will be forced to withdraw from the treaty. This alarming announcement sent shockwaves across Washington, and indeed across the ocean. Withdrawing from the INF signals a serious step backwards in non-proliferation, and while it’s a radical and undesireable step, it’s necessary for the security of our country and that of our allies.
Allegations of treaty violations have been traded between the two countries practically since before the ink was dry. For years, Russia denied the 9M729 system was even in the development pipeline. However, in January of 2019 those denials became admissions when Moscow unveiled the platform for the first time.
Then, the argument made by Moscow was that while yes, they’d successfully tested the platform, it did not violate the INF.
Recently, the topic was rekindled when Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to members of the Russian media regarding the potential dissolution. In addition to reasserting claims that the 9M729 was treaty compliant, Putin also detailed the development of other first-strike capable weapons systems and the possibility of intended targets should the need present itself. His remarks can be seen here.
This disturbing development was followed by claims made by Dmitry Kiselyov on Russian State television that a map of primary military and government assets was being considered as possible targets for the new Tsirkon hypersonic missile system. The full reporting was published here previously by NMC. The response in Washington to a possible INF withdrawal has been surprisingly bipartisan. Lawmakers have shown mixed opinions regarding the announcement. This could be indicative of both the seriousness of the move and the overall sense of disdain felt not only for our administration, but perhaps even moreso for that of the Russian regime. This from Seen Jeanne Shaheen, Dem, NH:
The Kremlin is a bad actor and hasn’t been in compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty for some time, but if the United States is to withdraw, there must be a plan in place to prevent proliferation…I urge the President to consult with our transatlantic allies, NATO, the U.S. intelligence community and Senate Foreign Relations Committee members about how to proceed and ensure there is an established strategy before the six-month period of withdrawal expires.”
—Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and Member of Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 1, 2019
Conversely, there are Congressional Republicans that are less than optimistic of the plan. Senator Jack Reed is quoted saying
“Withdrawing from the INF treaty with absolutely nothing in its place to contain the expansion of these destabilizing systems is a serious mistake and could spark a new arms race. America is stronger when it works with others and builds alliances; presidents of both parties have demonstrated this, but sadly President Trump seems to be more interested in ending alliances than strengthening them.”
—Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 2, 2019
The issue has also illustrated just how disconnected and hypercritical some lawmakers have become. For over two years, the American people have been bludgeoned through the media with tales of Russian conspiracies, Russian Collusion and Russian spies. There’s not been a day gone past that the President has not been accused by someone of treasonous acts and conspiracies with our Russian enemies. So it calls into question the intelligence and integrity of a politician who would zealously call out for impeachment for Russian conspiracies, and yet, as soon as the President announces a potential withdrawal from the INF, says something as contradictory as this:
“Congress must not allow the Trump administration to plunge the United States into a 21st-century nuclear arms race. This dangerous policy would undermine our national security, divide us from our allies, play directly into Putin’s hands, and place peace in Europe at risk. Instead, we must support effective diplomacy, invest in our national security and propose smart policies to keep our country, along with our European allies, secure, free and prosperous.”
—Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Chairmen of House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee (respectively), Feb. 1, 2019
Apparently if the discussion is centered on over throwing our Presidency, then these two House Democrats feel Russians are an insideous evil that seek to clandestinely take over our Presidency. However, if we are discussing bringing Russia into treaty compliance, then they are allies to be respected and nurtured. I find the remarks of Rep Brad Sherman particularly perplexing. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Pacific, Asia and Non-proliferation, one would think his reasoning to be far less wrought with logical flaws. He stated:
By contrast, withdrawing from the treaty would benefit Russia more than it helps the United States. Without the constraints imposed by the treaty, Russia could deploy not only the 9M729 missile but many follow-on ones that could strike deep into Europe. By contrast, U.S. allies, whether in Europe or Asia, have shown no appetite for hosting American INF-range missiles, raising serious doubts about any supposed benefits the United States can gain by leaving the treaty. Regardless, America’s air-launched and sea-based nuclear missiles are more than sufficient for deterring Russia in Europe. For these reasons, I urge you to keep the United States in the INF Treaty for the time being, while ramping up the diplomatic pressure on Russia and others to comply with the treaty.”—
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Chairman of House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, Jan. 31, 2019
Let’s unpack this, because there’s a lot going on here. First, he opines that withdrawal is good for Russia because it frees their hands to deploy systems that violate the current treaty. The very systems that are prompting our withdrawal. Yes….their hands are already unbound, Brad.
Next, he reasons that our NATO partners will balk at the possibility of having US countermeasures within their borders. While yes, they may be reluctant to entertain such a thing now, I’m certain that reluctance will fade once Vladimir begins placing his 9M729’s around the map
Brad continues by stating that without NATO welcoming our land based countermeasures, the US response would be unable to protect our European allies. It is then that he completely contradicts his own argument when he says that “America’s air-launched and sea-based nuclear missiles are more than sufficient for deterring Russia in Europe”. In other words, while cooperation from NATO would certainly be preferred, it is not absolutely necessary.
This is an excellent illustration of hyper-partisan politics in action. These joker’s are so intent on opposition to anything suggested from the Trump administration, that they will twist their own thinking and reasoning to the point that any argument they make is comedic fodder.
All quotes used can be sourced here