US says Russia has violated INF treaty
The Obama administration has formally accused Russia of violating the strictures against developing ground launched cruise missiles in the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF.
It doesn't get much worse than this. Usually, violations of arms control accords are the result of a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of treaty language - deliberate or otherwise.
There can be no mistaking this sort of gross violation against the development of a specifically banned weapon.And now, there's a real question whether the INF treaty can even be saved.
The New York Times reported in January that American officials had informed the NATO allies that Russia had tested a ground-launched cruise missile, raising serious concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F. Treaty as it is commonly called. The State Department said at the time that the issue was under review and that the Obama administration was not yet ready to formally declare it to be a treaty violation.
In recent months, however, the issue has been taken up by top-level officials, including a meeting early this month of the Principals’ Committee, a cabinet-level body that includes Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of state and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Senior officials said the president’s most senior advisers unanimously agreed that the test was a serious violation, and the allegation will be made public soon in the State Department’s annual report on international compliance with arms control agreements.
“The United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the I.N.F. treaty not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” that report will say.
In his letter to Mr. Putin, delivered by the American Embassy, Mr. Obama underscored his interest in a high-level dialogue with Moscow with the aim of preserving the 1987 treaty and discussing steps the Kremlin might take to come back into compliance. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a similar message in a Sunday phone call to Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
Because the treaty proscribes testing ground-launched cruise missiles of medium-range, the Kremlin cannot undo the violation. But administration officials do not believe the cruise missile has been deployed and say there are measures the Russians can take to ameliorate the problem.
Did Putin think he could get away with it? Does he care?
I think the answer to the latter question is "no":
The prospects for resolving the violation were also uncertain at best. After Ms. Gottemoeller first raised the matter in 2013, Russian officials said that they had looked into the matter and consider the issue to be closed.
The survival of the treaty is an open question. Putin called Gorbachev's decision to sign the treaty "debatable," says the Times, which means he is not very keen on maintaining it. The problem with this attitude is that the INF treaty is a linchpin for the entire arms control regime, including the START treaties. Once either the US or Russia starts abrogating treaties, it's hard to see where it stops.