End of INF & START 1 Looming? Back to MAD?

If this Stratfor Article is even half right then the government is making the right decision in replacing Trident. It seems that after the GWoT haitus, global power politics is reverting to normal.

The INF Treaty: Implications of a Russian Withdrawal
By Nathan Hughes and Peter Zeihan

Russia is poised to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1987. The treaty prohibits development and deployment of all land-based short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles, as well as all ground-launched cruise missiles. Inspections verifying the treaty were completed in 2001, although elimination was effectively concluded nearly a decade earlier.

Moscow has been dropping hints that it might withdraw from the INF since at least late August. However, two looming developments make this appear to be more of a certainy than rhetoric. First, U.S. basing agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic for ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations now look quite likely to be approved. Second, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START 1, is set to expire in 2009, and Washington has failed to respond to Moscow's numerous offers to launch negotiations on a replacement treaty. Having benefited from the decay in Russia's military strength since the end of the Cold War, the United States clearly has no interest in such a treaty.

As the odds of having a basic U.S. BMD system in Europe increase, Russian statements alluding to a withdrawal from the INF have become more frequent. For example, speaking before the Duma on Feb. 8, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov (who at the time was defense minister) characterized Russian signing of the treaty in 1987 as a mistake. On Feb. 19, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, went even further, threatening that Russian nuclear missiles could be targeted any U.S. BMD installation in Europe. He stopped short of actually threatening to load targeting data into Russia's missile guidance systems, but his meaning was clear.

In a certain sense, Solovtov's implicit threats are meaningless. Russia has no leverage to actually prevent the construction of BMD facilities in Europe, and it would not benefit from mounting a direct military challenge to the United States. But that does not mean the general's statements are completely without sense: If Moscow has a means to legitimately threaten European states -- likely using intermediate-reach ballistic missiles, as during the Cold War -- it retains influence within the region and can leverage that against the United States, as Russia attempts to reassert itself as a great power.

With that in mind, then, let's consider the escape clause that is written into the INF: To withdraw, a signatory must provide six months' notice along with a statement explaining "extraordinary events" that endanger the withdrawing party's "supreme interests." Though there is no defined threshold for "extraordinary events," Moscow has been laying the groundwork for withdrawal by characterizing the emplacement of U.S. BMD installations in Europe as just that.

The Purpose of a Treaty

The 1987 INF treaty was implemented to remove a direct, overwhelming threat to the NATO and Warsaw Pact allies in Europe, drastically reducing the chances and consequences of a conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact states -- but that was hardly the only reason it was negotiated, signed, ratified and implemented.

For the Soviets, the INF was not to be viewed as simply a stand-alone treaty by either negotiating team. Behind the Iron Curtain, it represented a fundamental break with past ideology. Before 1982, the leadership had been convinced of the Soviet Union's permanence. But with the rise of Yuri Andropov and, later, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leadership realized it was losing the Cold War and needed to reach out to the West in a way that would achieve understanding as well as pave the way for future collaboration. The INF treaty was the first crowbar used to pry open the door for Western-Soviet negotiations on everything from troop levels to energy deals to, of course, more arms control treaties.

In the West, the rationale for the treaty was more complex. The conventional military balance in Europe always favored the Soviets; it must be remembered that it was NATO, not the Soviet Union, that maintained a nuclear first-strike doctrine. So on the surface, removing intermediate nuclear weapons seemed to be a self-defeating move. But most of NATO's weapons, then and now, were of American origin -- and for the Americans, the INF served a number of purposes. Removing nuclear weapons with short flight times from hair-trigger alert was a no-brainer for the United States' European allies, but the corresponding calculus in the United States went much deeper.

First, Soviet propaganda in the 1970s had proved quite successful in stirring up European public opinion against the presence of U.S. nuclear forces on the Continent. Because the United States possessed a robust ICBM capability, eliminating intermediate forces not only raised the level of European security but also removed an irritant in trans-Atlantic relations.

For Washington, the second purpose behind the treaty built upon the first. When U.S. weapons systems were stored on allies' territory, those allies often wanted to have a say in how or when those weapons were used. Removing the intermediate missiles from service left the United States fully reliant on its home- and submarine-based ICBMs -- weapons over which no one but Washington could claim influence. The INF treaty technically might have limited U.S. options, but a more holistic evaluation reveals that it actually laid the foundation for a truly unfettered U.S. strategic policy. It is noteworthy that officials who were instrumental in shaping sovereignty-maximizing U.S. strategic policy in recent years, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, served in the Reagan administration's diplomatic service at the time the INF treaty was being patched together.

Third, ICBMs were expensive. Ironically, the Americans saw this as a good thing. The United States possessed the economic gravitas to maintain an ICBM arms race if it needed to; it was an open question at the time whether the Soviets could do the same. In hindsight, of course, the answer was "no." Nor did this come as a shock in Moscow: During the Khrushchev era, in the early 1960s, the Soviets had sought to avoid bearing the cost burden of an ICBM capability. Instead, the Kremlin stationed intermediate-range missiles in Cuba in order to achieve strategic parity with Washington on the cheap. Only after the Cuban missile crisis ended, with the Soviet climb-down, did the Soviets begin making the appropriations necessary to fund a full ICBM program. Now fast-forward to the 1980s: in implementing INF, the Americans locked the Soviets into the most expensive weapons regime available at the time.

Strategic Rocket Forces and Decay

Ultimately, the Russian decision to leave the INF is grounded in these last two factors in American thinking -- as well as the simple fact that the rest of the world has pushed past the Cold War mentality.

For Washington, the war against jihadists has become an overwhelming priority. But even outside of that context, the United States, its NATO allies and indeed, the rest of the world, have already plunged into a pervasive post-Cold War restructuring that is indicative of a shift in defense priorities.

Western European states are far more concerned with domestic matters -- many of them with the rising Arab Muslim demographic in the populace -- than with anything Russians might do. The United States and the Chinese are watching each other warily and taking steps to prepare for what both fear will be a new clash of titans down the road. Only the Central Europeans remain preoccupied with Moscow. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it is Central European states that have been inordinately willing to cooperate with the United States on a missile defense system. Though the system ostensibly is designed to protect the United States against a theoretical missile strike from a state like Iran, the system could target Russian ballistic missile launches -- though only a tiny fraction of any nuclear barrage.

For the Central Europeans, that is reason enough in and of itself to participate in the BMD system; for the Americans, this is merely a side benefit.

Because it anticipates a strategic competition with China eventually, the United States sees limitations on its nuclear arsenal as impractical. Washington almost certainly will walk away from the START I treaty -- which places specific limits on the size and type of nuclear forces the United States and Russia are permitted to possess -- when it comes up for renegotiation in 2009. This would leave it free to force China into the same sort of crushing arms race that so damaged the Soviet Union.

And that means Russia is doing the only thing it realistically can: rattling its nuclear saber.

Russia's problem is that its nuclear arsenal is precisely the problem. Despite its best efforts, Russia's aging nuclear deterrent has continued to crumble, without adequate maintenance. Nor are replacements being made at anything close to a sufficient rate. The fielding of the new SS-27 Topol-M ICBM -- the only fundamentally new missile system that Russia has operationalized since the Cold War's end -- has been excruciatingly slow, with only 45 fielded in nearly a decade and a mere seven new missiles slated for deployment in 2007. The Topol's submarine-launched equivalent, the Bulava, has been so plagued by technical difficulties and delays that it still has not been deployed.

The one thing in all of this that has softened the blow for Russia has been START I. With this treaty in force, Moscow could cling to the hope of one day again achieving some semblance of parity with Washington -- indeed, the treaty was the very embodiment of the Cold War balance of power. But the only way to perpetuate that balance today would be to implement a replacement treaty for START I that allows Russia to retire even more of its expensive, aging arsenal while still maintaining the psychological high-ground of "equality" with the United States. Moscow now understands that this option is not in the cards.

We expect START I to fall by the wayside, discarded in the face of U.S. strategic needs. In order to mitigate the damage, Russia will have no choice but to abandon the INF treaty in response.

The Nuclear Saber and Marginalization

Yet nuclear weapons remain Russia's one trump card. The scale and reach of its Soviet-era Strategic Rocket Forces -- the very heart of Russia's strategic nuclear missile forces -- give Moscow entry to the premier class of world powers (meaning those possessing nukes on the world-smashing level). The nuclear deterrent remains Russia's best means of guaranteeing is territorial integrity (which, given its vast land mass and longest border in the world, cannot be done with conventional ground forces alone).

In the last 16 years, Russia has watched helplessly as the Strategic Rocket Forces eroded, along with Moscow's control over the states of Eastern Europe and along its periphery in the Caucasus. Moscow has attempted to wield its energy supplies as a means of control and to reassert itself diplomatically on the world stage, and it will continue to do so. However, these steps have not been sufficient to prevent U.S. encroachment into Russia's traditional sphere of influence. In fact, some of the countries along its periphery have been quite blunt in citing such tactics as reasons for their decisions to join the U.S. missile shield.

And now, the United States is poised to deploy BMD assets on Russia's doorstep.

From Russia's perspective, the establishment of the new BMD system in Europe would represent the worst of all possible worlds. Its very existence not only would spotlight Moscow's declining diplomatic prowess, but also would testify to Russia's marginalization in the international system.

It is true that any BMD base would not pose a challenge to a Strategic Rocket Forces strike against the West in the near term. The system, assuming it works, at best would be able to shoot down only a handful of missiles at a time, and Russia (despite its many problems) still has hundreds of ICBMs in working order. The long-term picture is rather different: Russian military technological advancements have slowed to a crawl since 1992, while the United State continues to incrementally improve. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the BMD system of 2020 might pose a realistic threat to Russia's strategic ICBM deterrent.

The IRBM Option

Having withdrawn from the INF, Russia would be free to once again begin construction of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) as a means of leveling the playing field. With Russia unable to challenge the United States directly, the establishment of a new Missile Army made up of IRBMs would threaten NATO in a way it has not known since the Cold War.

Russia pioneered "cold launch" technology -- an advanced launch technique -- and has fielded several land-based solid-fuel IRBMs since the 1970s. Though these systems date back 20 years or more, it makes little difference to the populations of the cities within their range whether the nuclear warhead that hits them was designed in 1960 or in 2005. Most important, these IRBMs are much cheaper than the ICBMs of the Strategic Rocket Forces. Intercontinental strike capability is priced at a premium.

Though a direct arms race with the United States remains out of the question, a lopsided race in which the Russians focus on IRBMs could change the game entirely. A barrage of several dozen IRBMs easily could overwhelm a small squadron of BMD interceptors based in Europe -- as well as any system that the United States conceivably might field in the next 20 years.

To be clear, this is not an option that would buy Russia parity with the United States. But it would be a stout reminder to Europe -- and to the United States by extension -- that even a weakened Moscow is not to be trifled with. Unable to reclaim the global power it wielded during the Soviet era, Russia nevertheless could use a new IRBM force to threaten Europe and, in so doing, resurrect a host of diplomatic options that served Kremlin interests very well in the past.

Such a step might not mark Russia as a resurgent world power, but it certainly would reforge perceptions of Russia as a power that is impossible to ignore.


Is this the treaty that has crippled the Russian space agency for the past 20 years? I recall reading that the Soyuz lauch system was affected by one of them (under the same classification as ICBM?), maybe they just want to expand their space tourism venture? There doesn't seem to be a shortage of customers, even at 14 million notes a pop!
Russia does need missiles to threaten europe, they just have to remind them who's hand is on the gas tap!

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