The growing tension around the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty of 8 December 1987 continues to complicate the bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington, registering mutual complaints against each other over non-compliance with the document.
In March 2017, the Pentagon accused Russia of violating the “spirit and letter” of the INF Treaty and deploying banned ground-based cruise missiles (GLCM).
“The system itself presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe and we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility,” the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
In turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Russian leadership has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to the obligations under the INF Treaty.
“There were no violations on our part. The United States claim the opposite, but they do not provide any specific information that could be verified to clarify the situation,” he said to the Media.
Russia’s minister stressed that Moscow has very serious questions to the United States concerning certain ‘liberties’ with the implementation of this treaty by the Americans themselves.
“[This] concerns the program for creating ‘targets’ similar in characteristics to medium-range and shorter-range missiles; using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) falling under the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles with intermediate range, and launchers as part of ground-based anti-missile systems which can be used for firing cruise missiles,” Russian Foreign Minister explained.
Commenting on the difficult situation, Goetz Neuneck, deputy director and head of Interdisciplinary Research Group on Disarmament, Arms Control and Risk Technologies of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg, said that today the future of the INF Treaty is put into question.
“Since 2014 the US State Department claims that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF treaty. Now it says that Russia has deployed two battalions of new SSC-X-8 GLCM, […] but details are not yet published. Russia has made counteraccusations: it claims that the US deployment of Mk 41 launcher tubes for the Aegis BMD interceptors are not INF-compliant because the launchers have been used for testing the Tomahawk GLCMs and could be used for the deployment of offensive GLCMs,” he told PenzaNews.
In his opinion, significant violation of the INF treaty by one of the state parties would make the other side withdraw from this historic treaty.
“This would mean an expensive and dangerous new arms race between the West and Russia which includes the deployment of new long-range INF systems of high accuracy and conventional payloads. The chance of the military use for a decapitation strike would increase drastically in Europe and in Asia. Additionally, the US and Europe would be pressed to develop BMD systems also against Russia,” Goetz Neuneck explained.
According to him, President Putin and President Trump should sit together to find ways out of this stalemate.
“If the political will is there, they could solve the problems in a very short time. Preserving the INF treaty is in the interest of both sides as well as in the European and Asian interest. Under the historic INF treaty the destruction of 2.692 Russian US INF nuclear tipped delivery systems were organized diminishing the nuclear threat significantly in Europe, Russia and Asia. By starting a serious dialogue, both government can solve these problems by a set of confidence building measures: for example, publishing data about the deployments, their military role or there deployment location and organizing visits of suspected objects,” the German analyst said.
This includes the controversial BMD sites in Romania and Poland, he said.
“The US claims that they are only directed against Iran. Now, with the Iran deal, there is no nuclear threat from Iran and the Poland site makes no sense at all and should be stopped,” he explained.
In his opinion, an additional protocol can be included in the INF Treaty document to prohibit the use of Unmanned Armed Vehicles of INF range.
“Autonomous drones are a future threat, because a machine, but not a human operator decides about life and death. Ethical rules, military engagement regulations and robot arms control can help to constrain such destabilizing developments. Today the armed drones which the US is using in the Middle East or in Asia are guided by an operator. There use is mostly justified by the war against terror. There are much doubts that the excessive use is not lawful. The psychological and civilian damage of these weapons is higher than we think,” Goetz Neuneck said.
Greg Thielmann, former top official at the US State Department specializing in political-military and intelligence issues, Senior Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association, also expressed the idea of the additional protocol to the INF treaty.
“Armed drones are perceived by US political and military leaders to be more discriminate in avoiding civilian casualties and more militarily effective in many scenarios because of their longer duration over their targets than manned aircraft. Armed drones are also obviously less risky for US military personnel than manned aircraft. […] Given some similarities with the GLCMs banned by the INF Treaty and air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) which are factored into strategic force balances, it would be helpful to agree on a differentiation of GLCMs and armed drones in the SVC process, perhaps as a protocol to the INF Treaty,” the expert said.
According to him, both Russia and the United States should immediately reconvene the Special Consultative Commission (SVC) to resolve compliance concerns.
“After a 13-year interval, a 2-day SVC session was held in November 2016 to exchange grievances, but no date was set for a follow-on session. The governments in Moscow and Washington should urgently prepare for another SVC session, directing their delegations, which include technical experts from the military services to develop plans for addressing the concerns of the other side,” Greg Thielmann said.
From his point of view, the most significant step could be the decision to conduct site inspections.
“This would include an invitation for the Russians to visit the Aegis missile defense facility in Romania, and receive an on-site explanation of why the Mark 41 launchers are incapable of launching GLCMs and how that incapacity can be verified by Russia in the future. It would also include an invitation for the Americans to visit the testing facility and the deployment facilities of the Russian GLCMs that the United States considers prohibited under the treaty,” Senior Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association said.
He also reminded that in implementing the INF treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union – later, Russia Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan – eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons and created important precedents in establishing verification measures, which were later used in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process.
“If these compliance concerns are not resolved, or at least satisfactorily managed, the INF treaty is likely to be abandoned. It is not yet clear what the response of the Trump administration will be to what it considers and ongoing violation by Russia. Even if it does not lead to reciprocal deployments of banned GLCMs, it will lead to US military measures Russia would consider provocative and threatening. Moreover, it is clear that this perceived violation of the INF treaty will solidify opposition in Washington by both political parties to any extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” the analyst suggested.
In turn Lukasz Kulesa, Research Director and Head of the Warsaw Office of European Leadership Network, Former Deputy Director of the Strategic Analyses Department at the National Security Bureau, stressed that the future of not only INF, but also the whole US-Russia nuclear arms control system is at stake.
“The US has made very serious accusations of INF non-compliance towards Russia: that Russia has not only tested treaty-prohibited cruise missile system, but is deploying it with missile brigades. If confirmed, this would not only ‘kill’ the INF treaty, but also affect other arms control treaties like START, and make it difficult to agree new ones,” the expert said.
At the same time, according to him, one of Russia’s three counter-accusation towards the US, concerning launchers on Missile Defence system, also deserves close attention.
“There is a mechanism in the treaty to resolve compliance issues, including meetings of the Special Verification Commission. More meetings between experts will be necessary. On the issue of US accusations towards Russia, I think the two sides will need to go agree a special solution, including on-site inspections in Russia,” the analyst said.
He also stressed that there are already negative consequences of the INF crisis: it makes less likely that US and Russia would cooperate on other arms control issues.
“There are opinions – in Russia and in the US – that it is best to abandon the treaty, which can be legally done. However, this would only lead to worsening of the security situation. In Western Europe, a lot of countries would feel directly threatened by Russian missiles, and there would be a strong pressure on US and NATO to respond with deployment of similar systems. China would also most likely feel threatened by new class of Russian missiles,” Lukasz Kulesa suggested.
Meanwhile, the use of human-controlled combat drones and other similar systems is inevitable as part of the progress of military technology, he said.
“Trying to stop them would be like trying to stop introduction of combat aircraft 100 years ago. But there’s a problem with any future systems which may designed to act independently and not be controlled by human operator: here I fully support legal efforts to control and limit autonomous systems,” Research Director of European Leadership Network added.
In turn, Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, pointed to the special importance of the INF treaty.
“Despite the fact that the INF treaty was signed in 1987 and was in line with the policy of the Soviet Union and the United States to forge global political dialogue that put an end to the cold war, it has not lost its significance today. This treaty fulfills the role of an important tool restraining the arms race and is one of the basic elements of the modern security architecture in the northern hemisphere of the world,” the expert said.
He also added that according to the official information the terms of the agreement were fully implemented by June 1991.
“However, a new round of tension in relations between the US and Russia raised this issue and led to the suggestions of non-compliance to the treaty, in particular, of Russia. As I see it, this is about Moscow’s deployment of a new anti-missile defense system in the north-west of the country, in the Kaliningrad region. However, there was no substantive evidence of Russia resuming the production and deployment of small and medium-range missiles,” Head of South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists said.
In his opinion, it is difficult to talk about the creation of a monitoring group on this issue because of the actual freezing of the political dialogue between Washington and Moscow
“Meanwhile, in February this year, US senators and congressmen proposed the adoption of a law permitting the delivery of medium- and short-range missiles to Europe and other Washington allies. Undoubtedly, the denunciation of the treaty under the current conditions can be an irresponsible step that creates conditions for the ‘erosion’ of the modern pan-European security system and opens the way for a new round of the arms race that will lead to the intensification of existing hotbeds of tension not only in Europe but also in Asia,” Ilgar Velizade said.
“Washington’s accusations are politically motivated, but evidence and factology require objective analysis, supported by convincing confirmation in the form of photo and video documents, details, statements by political and military officials that somehow confirm the nature of military preparations. By now such evidence is unknown,” the analyst said.
In his opinion, the problem around drones is also quite serious in the absence of a legislative framework regulating the standards of their use.
“Unlike short- and medium-range missiles which have legal specifics, there are many controversial points regarding drones in international law that allow countries to circumvent the existing restrictions on the use of these UAVs. In addition, a sufficient number of countries have the technology for the production and use of drones, an even greater number of countries are actively purchasing them, and it is difficult to determine with any certainty which country they belong to. This makes it possible to avoid responsibility in case of violation of humanitarian norms, using this type of UAV,” Ilgar Velizade explained.
In order to ensure compliance with the basic requirements of the INF treaty it is necessary to conduct a thorough monitoring of the situation, he said.
“The work should be conducted with the participation of unbiased parties, possibly within the framework of the special OSCE mission, with the mutual consent of Moscow and Washington. To do this, it is enough to recall how the mission of inspectors worked while destroying small and medium-range missiles in the late 80s – early 90s of the last century. This is an integrated political solution based on a comprehensive agreement between Russia and the United States, which provides for the inspection of both Russian and American military installations. This in turn is possible only under the condition of a large-scale US-Russia dialogue, which is so far hoped to occur,” the expert concluded.
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