The Collapse of the INF

The 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was the first treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons from the arsenals of the US and Russia. “Trust buy verify” was Reagan’s catchphrase to describe the treaty. In the early 1980s, Soviet deployment of intermediate ranged weapons such as the SS-20 missile lead to US deployment of Pershing II missiles as well as Ground Launched Cruise Missiles. The extremely short time of flight of SS-20 and Pershing II was seen as destabilizing, and the theory of a limited nuclear exchange in Europe being limited to Europe was widely discredited. By eliminating intermediate range forces, with both the Soviet Union and the US instead relying on intercontinental forces, the Mutual Assured Destruction theory of deterrence was actually strengthened. This led to a measurable decrease in tension between the superpowers.

With the successful implementation of the INF treaty, sufficient trust between the superpowers was built that allowed other treaties to move forward, such as the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement.

For many years, INF has been held aloft by both the political right and the left as a model of  successful negotiation by the West with the East.

Today, a resurgent Russia is de facto discarding the INF treaty.

The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday.

It is the most serious allegation of an arms control treaty violation that the Obama administration has leveled against Russia and adds another dispute to a relationship already burdened by tensions over the Kremlin’s support for separatists in Ukraine and its decision to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

At the heart of the issue is the 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of flying 300 to 3,400 miles. That accord, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, helped seal the end of the Cold War and has been regarded as a cornerstone of American-Russian arms control efforts.

And why shouldn’t Putin disregard the treaty? The Obama administration has already conceded that they will do little or nothing to punish Russia.

As a practical matter, the US cannot simply reinvent the Pershing II and GLCM systems. First, that would be enormously expensive. Secondly, we would have to find a European ally  willing to host such systems. Even in the coldest days of the Cold War, it was extraordinarily unpopular with large swaths of the European electorate. Today there simply would be no western European nation willing to host such weapons. And it’s not like the Obama administration would be willing to put forth the diplomatic effort to convince any that hosting them would be in their best interests.

There is on possible reply the US could make that, while expensive, is quite feasible. After 1992, the US removed nuclear weapons from the inventory of all but the strategic missile submarine force. The nuclear tipped weapons such as the Tomahawk were retired.

But with some infrastructure effort, and a good deal of expensive training, US naval forces could quickly establish a credible intermediate range nuclear threat to Russia.

Another possibility is that the Army Tactical Missile System, a short ranged guided ballistic missile system, could have its range extended. It was deliberately designed to fall well short of the 500km range threshold of INF. Coupled with a program to develop a nuclear warhead, it could provide a response to continued Russian development of intermediate ranged ballistic missile systems.

Neither system would be particularly technically challenging. Only politically.

10 thoughts on “The Collapse of the INF”

  1. After the Air Force had some problems with their Nuclear Surety program, several of us old-timers that worked on Army nuclear systems were talking about volunteering to come out of retirement and showing them how it used to be done. Maybe we could dust off the uniforms and show the DoD how the tactical (or theater) nuclear weapons were used to end the last Cold War. I vividly remember the hysteria from the Air Force about the Pershing 2, because it had a range that encroached upon “their” mission envelope. I’d rather pin PFC stripes back on than see my children and grandchildren have to endure what we did in the 70s and 80s.

  2. It’s not like the Pershing II went away entirely. The Chinamen have revived the maneuvering RV and use it on the DF-21D to threaten our CBGs in the China Seas.

  3. Why does it have to be a western European nation? I’d bet that Poland or one of the Baltic states could be convinced, and Ukraine might well jump at the chance.

    Of course, this assumes we have any kind of credibility left on the international stage, which is really quite a stretch.

  4. Reinventing the Pershing II and GLCM would certainly be less expensive than other options (e.g., new bomber or new SSBN).

    Personally I’d like to see the treaty abandoned so that every rock in the Western Pacific can bristle with mobile ballistic missiles and GLCMs. You want the Senkakus? Don’t come in weak!

    1. As long as we’re on a re-invention kick, we should re-invent the W-70 Mod 3, enhanced radiation weapon (a.k.a. the neutron bomb). Maybe we can fit it out on cruise missiles, then we can glick ’em and slick ’em and shoot them when they glow in the dark.

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