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former IAEA Director-General

European Security

U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe: Move the Ball, Not the Goal Posts

Within the last decade, the United States has made several important adjustments to its plans for deploying missile defenses in Europe. In light of the ongoing implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and an objective assessment of Iran’s missile program, it is high time to make another one—suspending the deployment of more advanced Aegis missile defense interceptors to Poland. Defending Europe Against Iran In September 2009, President Barack Obama announced a four-part “European Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) to deploying U.S. missile defenses in Europe against the emerging ballistic...

INF Treaty Impasse: Time for Russian Action

If Russia does nothing to address U.S. concerns about Moscow’s compliance with the [INF] Treaty, the current dispute over the treaty could lead to a dangerous action-reaction cycle. 

January/February 2016

By Richard W. Fieldhouse

Eileen Malloy, head of the arms control implementation unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, attends a ceremony marking the destruction of Soviet missiles under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at the Saryozek site in Kazakhstan on May 11, 1990. (Photo credit: American Foreign Service Association)The U.S. government has determined that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). So far, the Russian government has simply denied any violation and refused to engage the United States in constructive discussions on the issue.

Moscow has made counteraccusations that the United States insists are intended to divert or deflect attention from Russia’s own violation.1 Despite repeated U.S. efforts to discuss and resolve its concerns with senior Russian officials, there are no signs of progress.

The Obama administration has been developing a response to the violation over the last year, but Congress is pressing for stronger action. With the upcoming presidential election and the pressure from Congress for a forceful, near-term response, the political circumstances in the United States could push the dispute in a direction that makes it more dangerous for both sides, as well as for U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. To avoid such a mutually undesirable outcome, Russia should use the remaining period of the Obama administration to work toward a constructive resolution of this serious problem.

Without visible progress toward a resolution, it seems likely that any future U.S. president, particularly a Republican president, will feel a need to take additional steps to respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation. Such moves could increase the risk of a nuclear confrontation of a type that has not been seen since the Cold War ended.

Fortunately, there is nothing inevitable about a deterioration in nuclear security and stability. These are matters that will be decided by the governments.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States each deployed hundreds of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe that the other side saw as an unacceptable security threat. Eventually, that confrontation led the two governments to conclude the INF Treaty.

The potential consequences of the current standoff could include the termination of the INF Treaty or an action-reaction cycle of military deployments that increases the threat of nuclear confrontation and instability. Given these possibilities, it is important to examine the key elements of this dispute to understand why it would likely grow worse over time and to begin considering how both sides might approach resolution to avoid a return to increased nuclear confrontation and insecurity.

The INF Treaty Violation

The July 2014 arms control compliance report by the Department of State contained the first public exposition of the U.S. assessment of Russia’s actions. The report stated that “[t]he United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km [kilometers] to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”2 In its compliance analysis section, the report enumerates each provision of the INF Treaty relevant to the determination of the violation.

The June 2015 compliance report, which reaffirmed the previous determination, included an additional detail: “The United States determined the cruise missile developed by the Russian Federation meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, and as such, all missiles of that type, and all launchers of the type used to launch such a missile, are prohibited under the provisions of the INF Treaty.”3 To avoid any ambiguity or disputes about potential differences such as range, capability, or purpose within a prohibited type of missile or its launcher, the INF Treaty says that if any type of missile or launcher meets the definition of a prohibited item, then all such items, regardless of any potential variations or differences, “shall be considered to be” that type of prohibited item, even if they have not been demonstrated or tested for that purpose, and thus must be eliminated.4

The report also stated that “[t]he United States noted concerns about the Russian Federation’s compliance with the INF Treaty in earlier, classified versions” of the compliance report.

Since the details of the violation remain classified, there has been some public uncertainty and speculation about which of several conceivable missile systems constitutes the violation. Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has commented publicly to dispel some of the confusion and clarify the nature of the violation. In an interview in June 2015, she said, “At issue is a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500-5,500 kilometers. We are confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring.”5 In a September 2015 interview, she elaborated that she was “talking about a missile that has been flight-tested as a ground-launched cruise-missile system to these ranges that are banned under this treaty.”6 Around the same time, Anita Friedt, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear and strategic policy, said Russia had tested the “state-of-the-art” missile “at ranges capable of threatening most of [the] European continent and our allies in Northeast Asia.”7

On December 1, 2015, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade held a joint hearing on the violation and the administration’s response. The two Obama administration witnesses, Gottemoeller and Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, provided the most definitive description to date of the violation and of the U.S. response.

According to McKeon’s testimony, there “has been some speculation about what missile the United States is referring to and whether we have mistaken its testing for a treaty-compliant sea-based cruise missile.” The INF Treaty prohibits intermediate-range GLCMs but does not limit intermediate-range sea-launched cruise missiles or air-launched cruise missiles, which Russia and the United States each possess.

According to McKeon, “The evidence is conclusive. Russia has tested this ground-based system well into the ranges covered by the INF Treaty. We are talking about a real system and not a potential capability.”8

At the same hearing, Gottemoeller testified that, in discussions with Russian officials, the United States “made very clear that this is not a technicality, a one-off event, or a case of mistaken identity, but a serious Russian violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF Treaty.”

Administration Response

The Obama administration’s planned response to the Russian violation of the INF Treaty has evolved over the last year. This is most clearly seen in the differences between congressional testimony of administration witnesses in 2014, the first year the administration made public its determination of Russia’s violation, and their testimony a year later at the hearing described above.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, shown above in an April 2015 photo, said at a congressional hearing on December 1, 2015, that Russia is committing “a serious…violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF Treaty.” (Photo credit: CTBTO)At the December 10, 2014, hearing, which was a joint hearing of the same House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services subcommittees, the administration witnesses stated they had two objectives: first, to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty and keep the treaty in force, and second, to ensure that Russia does not gain any significant military advantage from its violation. Gottemoeller testified that because Russia “has been unwilling to acknowledge its violation or address our concerns,” the administration was “reviewing a series of diplomatic, economic, and military measures” to pursue these objectives.9

At the same hearing, McKeon said the United States has been having discussions with Russia on the subject since early 2013. He said he and his colleagues “have conveyed to Russian officials we expect the Russian Federation to cease any further development, testing, production, and deployment of this noncompliant system and to eliminate the missiles and launchers in a verifiable manner.” He reported that Russia has not provided any information or acknowledged “the existence of such a noncompliant cruise missile.”

He went on to explain that the U.S. Joint Staff had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy an INF Treaty-range ground-launched cruise missile in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment also led the administration “to review a broad range of military response options and consider the effect each option could have on convincing Russian leadership to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, as well as countering the capability of a Russian INF Treaty-prohibited system.”

Later in the hearing, McKeon explained that the military response options “fall into three broad categories: Active defenses to counter intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles; counterforce capabilities to prevent intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks; and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” He acknowledged that the administration was looking at “a broad range of options, some of which would be compliant with the INF Treaty, some of which would not be.”

It is noteworthy that the administration is reviewing some options that would not comply with the INF Treaty. Because the administration’s policy is to comply strictly with the INF Treaty and preserve the pact’s viability by bringing Russia back into compliance, the noncompliant options are presumably part of a contingency planning process in the event that Russia does not return to compliance or the treaty is no longer in force and the United States seeks to counter the Russian violation.

Although McKeon’s list of possible responses was focused on Russia’s INF Treaty violation, he indicated that the administration was seeking to develop a comprehensive policy toward Russia regarding the numerous security concerns posed by Russian actions in areas beyond that violation, including Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

At the December 2015 hearing, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said of the alleged Russian violation, “We are talking about a real system and not a potential capability.” (Photo credit: U.S. House Armed Services Committee Webcast)One year later, in his statement for the recent hearing, McKeon explained that the administration had broadened its response beyond the concerns about the INF Treaty violation: “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.… Accordingly, we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”10 It is worth noting that Gottemoeller testified at the same hearing that Russia had begun testing the cruise missile in 2008, but the United States did not determine until late 2011 that it was a GLCM and thus prohibited by the INF Treaty. That indicates that Russia began its noncompliant behavior years before the current challenges McKeon discussed.

McKeon said the substantially broader response, current and planned, includes a number of features to improve the defense of Europe. Such a response, he testified, could serve the purpose of denying Russia a significant military advantage from its violation. He added, “[W]e are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.” In terms of the effect of the broader response on changing Russia’s behavior, including returning to compliance with the treaty, he said that Moscow “will see these activities and they will see them in our budget, and they will start to understand, we believe, that this response is not making them any more secure.”

At the same hearing, Gottemoeller summarized the security risk to Russia if it fails to come back into compliance: “We continue to remind Russia why it signed this treaty in the first place, and why Russia’s continued violation would only lead to a needless and costly action-reaction cycle to the detriment of Russia’s security.”

The significantly expanded Obama administration response will likely become the baseline U.S. response. If a future president wants to indicate increased frustration or resolve, he or she probably will feel a need to take action that goes beyond this baseline, such as developing one or more of the three categories of systems to counter the Russian INF Treaty violation. If there has been no progress toward resolution at that time, such stronger action will likely appear to be politically necessary, particularly if the president is a Republican. In the shorter term, Congress is likely to continue pushing for stronger action on the INF Treaty during the upcoming campaign year.

Congressional Action

As the two joint House hearings indicate, Congress has been heavily involved in this issue. At the December 2015 hearing, Gottemoeller said there had been some 60 briefings, hearings, and meetings with Congress on the subject.

Of course, the most important measure of the input of Congress on any issue is the legislation it enacts. In 2014, the year the United States made public its determination of Russia’s INF Treaty violation, Congress enacted two provisions on that subject in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015.

Section 1651 of that act requires the secretary of defense to report to Congress on the “steps being taken or planned to be taken” to respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation, including “research, development, testing, or deployment” of future U.S. military capabilities “to deter or defend against the threat of intermediate-range nuclear force systems of Russia if Russia deploys such systems.”11

Section 1244 of the act requires a comprehensive report on Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty, including a description of the president’s plan to resolve noncompliance issues, and requires prompt notification to Congress if the president determines Russia “has deployed or intends to deploy systems that violate the INF Treaty,” including “any plans to respond to such deployments.”

In November 2015, Congress approved the defense authorization act for fiscal year 2016, which contains a far-reaching provision responding to Russia’s continuing noncompliance with the INF Treaty. The more forward-leaning language in part reflects the increased influence of congressional Republicans, who gained control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections. (They have held the majority in the House of Representatives since 2010.)

Section 1243 of the act requires the defense secretary to submit to Congress a plan to develop “[c]ounterforce capabilities to prevent” attacks from intermediate-range missiles covered by the INF Treaty “whether or not such [counterforce] capabilities are in compliance with the INF Treaty”; “[c]ountervailing strike capabilities to enhance the forces of the United States or allies,” again “whether or not such capabilities are in compliance”; and “[a]ctive defenses” to defend against intermediate-range GLCM attacks.

Although these are the same three categories of potential military responses that McKeon described as being under review in his testimony at the December 2014 hearing, the Obama administration has not pursued a plan to develop these capabilities, let alone begun to develop them.

Section 1243 also directs the defense secretary, if Russia has not begun to return to compliance, to develop any of those specified capabilities if they are recommended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with priority on those “capabilities that the Chairman determines could be fielded in two years.” (It is possible that the chairman would not make any such recommendation, in which case development would not be required.) Finally, the provision requires the administration to report to Congress on “potential deployment locations” of the military capabilities “in East Asia and Eastern Europe, including any basing agreements that may be required to facilitate such deployments.”

This provision of law pushes well beyond what the Obama administration is planning, even with its expanded response strategy. As the joint House hearings indicated, if there is no sign of progress on this issue when Congress prepares its legislation next year, it is likely that lawmakers will press for even stronger action. The provisions on the INF Treaty will inform the policies of the next president and could form the basis for additional future U.S. actions.

Russia’s Reaction

According to senior Obama administration officials, Russia’s reaction to the INF Treaty dispute has essentially been twofold. First, it has denied violating the treaty. As Gottemoeller said at the December 2015 hearing, Russia “claims that it is in full compliance with the treaty,” and it “asserts its commitment to continue, for the present time, to stay in the INF Treaty.”

Second, the Russian government has accused the United States of violating the INF Treaty with respect to three types of military systems: ballistic missile defense target missiles, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and the Mk-41 launcher planned for the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Europe, which Russia claims is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles. The INF Treaty prohibits such a capability.

At the December 2014 hearing, McKeon said, “All of Russia’s claims, past and present, are categorically unfounded. The United States has been and remains in compliance with all of its obligations under the INF Treaty. These Russian claims are meant to divert attention from its own violation. We fully addressed each of Russia’s concerns during the September 11[, 2014,] meetings in Moscow, and provided the Russian side with detailed explanations and Treaty-based explanations as to how U.S. actions are compliant with our obligations under the Treaty.”

At the same hearing, McKeon explained why these U.S. systems are in compliance with the treaty. The first two systems—missile defense target missiles and armed unmanned aerial vehicles—are clearly permitted by the terms and definitions of the INF Treaty. The one issue that is not so obvious is the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launcher because it appears similar to the ship-based Mk-41 launcher, which can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. If the Aegis Ashore launcher had the same capability as the ship-based version, it would be capable of launching intermediate-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from land, which is prohibited by the INF Treaty. According to McKeon, “The Aegis Ashore Vertical Launching System is not the same launcher as the sea-based Mk-41 Vertical Launching System, although it utilizes some of the same structural components as the sea-based system. Equally important, the Aegis Ashore system is only capable of launching defensive interceptor missiles, such as the [Standard Missile]-3. It is incapable of launching cruise missiles.”

Any Chance for Resolution?

The Aegis Ashore weapons system launches an SM-3 Block IB guided missile from the land-based Vertical Launching System during a U.S. Missile Defense Agency and Navy test from Kauai, Hawaii, on May 20, 2014. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)So far, there has been no progress toward resolving any of the U.S. concerns about Russia’s noncompliance with the INF Treaty and, according to Gottemoeller, no sign of willingness by Russia to try.12 Under the current circumstances, with so many areas of disagreement between Russia and the United States, it is difficult to imagine a constructive way forward. Yet if this controversy is to be resolved, it is important to begin considering what a mutually agreeable resolution might look like.

To start, Russia would have to be willing to have discussions with the United States to acknowledge and address the U.S. concerns. To resolve those concerns, it would likely have to acknowledge in some way that it has taken actions inconsistent with treaty and must be willing to take the significant steps to convince the United States it has come back into compliance.

The INF Treaty created a Special Verification Commission as a forum to discuss and resolve implementation and compliance issues and to consider additional steps to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty, which it did successfully. Although the commission is now a multilateral body that includes the former Soviet states that are parties to the INF Treaty, it is the logical forum for Russia and the United States to confidentially discuss and resolve the U.S. compliance concerns.

It is not clear what specific steps would be necessary to resolve this case. In an earlier compliance case, the United States accused the Soviet Union of violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by building a noncompliant radar at Krasnoyarsk. As McKeon noted at the December 2015 hearing, resolution took some seven years. The Soviet Union eventually acknowledged that the radar was noncompliant and dismantled it. Because Russia has not acknowledged any action in violation of the INF Treaty, resolution would presumably take a different path.

Although it is not possible to “untest” the cruise missile system or eliminate the testing knowledge, it would be essential to preclude its deployment, which is a threshold issue, and meet the U.S. standard enunciated by McKeon, namely to “cease any further development, testing, production, and deployment of this noncompliant system and to eliminate the missiles and launchers in a verifiable manner.” Doing so would require significant transparency and confidence-building steps, including on-site inspections. That was the standard created under the INF Treaty and enshrined in the current New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Given Russian assertions that the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launcher system would violate the treaty and Russia’s long-standing and often-stated anxiety about the Aegis Ashore missile defense system as a threat to Russian strategic deterrent capabilities, it is likely that Russia would seek some degree of transparency and confidence that the system cannot launch cruise missiles.

Although this idea may currently appear politically implausible to the United States and NATO, it is important to remember that the George W. Bush administration proposed to Russia a number of robust transparency measures on European missile defense to assure the Russians that it posed no threat to them. These steps included confidence- and security-building measures such as the presence of Russian military officials at NATO missile defense facilities and cooperation on joint missile defense centers. If it were a necessary step to help bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty, NATO might agree to a transparency process by which the United States demonstrated that the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore system cannot launch cruise missiles and is compliant with the INF Treaty. Such a process might include provision of information about how the Aegis Ashore system differs from the ship-based launcher and tours of the facilities to demonstrate its compliance. An arrangement of this type would require the consent of Poland and Romania, the countries on whose territory the planned Aegis Ashore sites would be located.

In light of the seemingly intractable INF Treaty impasse, the obvious question is how Russia would react to such a resolution idea. The answer depends, at least in part, on whether it sees the INF Treaty as remaining in its continuing security interest, as it says it does, and if it perceives that the U.S. response would diminish its security. If so, then it should be willing to resolve U.S. concerns. If not, Russia may hope the United States will withdraw from the treaty, as the United States did from the ABM Treaty, or take some step that is explicitly inconsistent with the treaty, thus giving Russia an opportunity to free itself of INF Treaty constraints without admitting to a violation. Some Russian officials have raised doubts about the continuing value of the treaty, noting that it limits only Russia and the United States. They have suggested that the treaty should be made multilateral to place similar limits on other countries with intermediate-range missiles. Because those countries are not interested in giving up their missiles, this idea seemed intended to undermine the treaty.

For its part, the United States should pursue actions that will increase the likelihood of Russia returning to compliance with the treaty. In the first instance, that means that Washington should remain in strict compliance with its obligations to the INF Treaty. Additionally, the United States, including Congress, should not take actions that would effectively preclude the option of Russia coming back into compliance, including moving toward withdrawal from the treaty, as long as there is a possibility for resolution. Finally, the United States should continue pressing its case with Russia for resolution.

If Russia does not engage in serious discussions with the United States to resolve its INF Treaty concerns, the results could look like a replay of scenes from the Cold War. McKeon acknowledged this at the December 2014 hearing: “We do not want to find ourselves engaged in an escalatory action/reaction cycle as a result of Russia’s decision to possess INF Treaty-prohibited weapons. However, Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security along with those of its allies and partners. Those actions will make Russia less secure.” At the same hearing, Gottemoeller said she had told her Russian counterparts, “[W]e do not want to go down the road of putting in place the kind of countermeasures that would…raise the kinds of threats that existed in Europe back at the time that [the] INF [Treaty] was first agreed.” After decades of Cold War nuclear confrontation and danger, the Soviet Union and the United States finally learned how to reverse the process and improve mutual stability and security. The INF Treaty was a central accomplishment in that effort.

It would be a historic failure if Russia and the United States forgot those lessons and could not preserve the security benefits of the INF Treaty. To avoid such an outcome, Russia should begin immediately to work constructively with the United States to resolve the U.S. concerns. Waiting will only make matters worse.

ENDNOTES

1.  This article assumes that Russia has taken the actions cited by the U.S. government in violation of Russia’s obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The U.S. government process for assessing and reporting noncompliance with arms control treaties is a comprehensive and exhaustive one, and determinations of violations are made only after a thorough review of the evidence provides high confidence in the assessment. As required by Section 403 of the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, the process involves the coordinated input of all relevant executive branch agencies and components. For the requirements for the annual compliance review and report, see http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title22-section2593a&num=0&edition=prelim.

2.  U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2014, p. 8, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/230108.pdf.

3.  U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” June 5, 2015, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/rpt/2015/243224.htm.

4.   INF Treaty, art. VII.

5.  “Rose Gottemoeller: We Don’t Want to See Action-Reaction Cycle Like We Saw During the Cold War,” Interfax, June 23, 2015, http://www.interfax.com/interview.asp?id=600960.

6.  Mike Eckel, “Impasse Over U.S.-Russia Nuclear Treaty Hardens As Washington Threatens ‘Countermeasures,’” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 16, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-nuclear-treaty-us-threatens-countermeasures/27250064.html.

7.  Anita Friedt, “A Full Spectrum Approach to Achieving the Peace and Security of a World Without Nuclear Weapons” (remarks at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Tiergarten Conference, Berlin, September 10, 2015), http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/2015/246943.htm.

8.  C-SPAN, “U.S.-Russia Arms Treaty,” December 1, 2015, http://www.c-span.org/video/?401252-1/hearing-russian-arms-control.

9.  Russian Arms Control Cheating and the Administration’s Responses: Joint Hearing Before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, 113th Cong. (2014).

10.  Brian P. McKeon, Statement Before the Joint Hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, December 1, 2015, p. 2, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA18/20151201/104226/HHRG-114-FA18-Wstate-McKeonB-20151201.pdf.

11.  Carl Levin and Howard “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, Pub. L. No. 113-291, 128 Stat. 3292 (2014), sec. 1244, 1651, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-113publ291/pdf/PLAW-113publ291.pdf.

12.  At the December 2015 hearing, Gottemoeller said that if the United States had “some inkling” that Russia were willing to acknowledge and try to resolve U.S. concerns, the United States would convene a meeting to do so. She and McKeon repeatedly said there is no such interest from Moscow.


Richard W. Fieldhouse is president of Insight Strategies, LLC, an independent consulting company. From 1996 to 2015, he served as a professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. He was on the personal staff of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) from 1991 until 1996.

Posted: January 14, 2016

Poland Backs Away From Nuclear Sharing

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s...

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, the country’s defense ministry denied that Poland was “engaged in any work aimed at joining” the arrangements.

In its Dec. 7 statement, the ministry said that the comment by Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski “should be seen in the context of recent remarks made by serious Western think tanks, which point to deficits in NATO’s nuclear deterrent capability on its eastern flank.” The statement observed that some of these think tanks have recommended expanding the number of countries that base U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil.

NATO’s nuclear sharing program is currently believed to consist of the deployment of 200 tactical B61 gravity bombs on the territory of five NATO members: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Most of these countries also maintain aircraft to deliver the weapons.

Like all other NATO members except France, Poland already participates in the alliance’s nuclear decision-making as a member of the Nuclear Planning Group, which acts as NATO’s senior body on nuclear matters. In addition, Poland contributes non-nuclear capabilities such as aircraft in support of the alliance’s nuclear mission.

NATO officials have repeatedly stated that the alliance is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

But the alliance has raised concerns about the nuclear behavior and other aggressive actions of Russia over the last year and continues to evaluate whether to formally adjust its nuclear posture in response to these actions in the lead-up to the next NATO summit meeting, scheduled to take place July 8-9 in Warsaw. (See ACT, November 2015.)

In a Dec. 7 blog post, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said that as NATO diplomats weigh specific nuclear-related measures, the alliance already “is starting to adjust its nuclear posture in Europe in ways that seem similar (but far from identical) to the Cold War play book,” such as “increased reliance on U.S. nuclear forces” and “more exercises and rotational deployments of nuclear-capable forces.”

Szatkowski’s statement “is but the latest sign of that development,” he added.

Posted: January 14, 2016

Cost Estimates Rise for UK Submarine

A new defense review by the UK government estimates the cost of building four new ballistic missile submarines to be 31 billion pounds (about $45.5 billion)...

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

A new defense review by the UK government estimates the cost of building four new ballistic missile submarines to be 31 billion pounds (about $45.5 billion), an increase of 17-20 billion pounds over the last formal government estimate of 11-14 billion pounds nearly a decade ago.

The defense review also announced a new investment plan and deployment date for the new submarines.

The United Kingdom currently possesses four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines sometimes are also called Tridents.) The government is planning to replace these submarines with a fleet of four new ones.

The 2015 cost estimate to build the submarines includes the effects of inflation over the 20 years it will take to acquire the boats. The review said the total cost to design the new submarine fleet would be an additional 3.9 billion pounds, a portion of which has already been spent.

The review is also setting aside a “contingency” fund of 10 billion pounds, apparently to help address potential increases in the manufacturing cost of the submarines.

The review did not include an estimate of the cost to operate the new boats over their expected lifetimes. Reuters reported last October that the cost to build and operate the fleet and its supporting infrastructure will reach 167 billion pounds, citing figures provided to Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of Parliament, by the Ministry of Defence.

In 2011 the government approved a five-year preparatory research and design phase for the new submarines. The key set of investment decisions on the program, known as Main Gate, had been scheduled for 2016, to be followed by a vote in Parliament. But the review said the government is “moving away from a traditional single ‘Main Gate’ approach, which is not appropriate for a program of this scale and complexity, to a staged investment programme.”

The review did not detail what this new approach will look like.

It also is unclear whether and, if so, when the Conservative Party, which strongly supports the replacement of the current submarines and currently holds a majority in Parliament, will seek a vote in Parliament in favor of the replacement program.

According to the review, the first new submarine is slated to enter service in the early 2030s. Previous government statements had said the first new submarine would be in the water in 2028. 

What's New Text: 

Posted: January 14, 2016

U.S. Broadens Response on INF Treaty

The Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a response to Russia’s alleged violation of the [INF] Treaty that goes beyond Washington’s specific concerns about treaty noncompliance. 

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, the State Department’s Rose Gottemoeller, left, and the Defense Department’s Brian McKeon testify on December 1, 2015, at a hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Photo credit: C-SPAN)After reviewing a range of military options to respond to Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a broader approach that goes beyond its specific concerns about Moscow’s noncompliance with the treaty.

In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said that “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.”

“Accordingly,” he added, “we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”

Reiterating the public assessment that it first made in July 2014, the State Department said last June that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Dec. 1 statement that the allegations are “groundless” and the United States has “not provided any proof” that Russia is “allegedly producing and deploying” banned missiles.

Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

At a December 2014 hearing held by the same House subcommittees as the recent hearing, McKeon said the Pentagon had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy” an INF Treaty-range GLCM “in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment prompted a review of three kinds of response capabilities to ensure that Russia did not gain a significant military advantage from its alleged violation: “active defenses” to enhance the defense of locations the noncompliant GLCMs could reach, “counterforce capabilities” to actually attack these missiles, and “countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.”

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that they were being discussed with allies and that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” but others “would not be.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29, 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the Obama administration was still in the midst of “negotiating” how to respond to the treaty breach but that if Russia fielded a noncompliant system, he would “expect” the United States to pursue one of the three categories of INF Treaty-focused options McKeon outlined.

At the Dec. 1 hearing, however, McKeon did not mention these options. Instead, he listed a number of broader steps that the United States already is undertaking and plans to undertake to bolster the defense of Europe in the face of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, along with heightened nuclear saber rattling that has included more nuclear exercises.

McKeon’s list included expanding bilateral and multilateral military exercises with European allies, positioning military equipment in central and eastern Europe, improving air defense systems in Europe, modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, and focusing on new threats to Europe, such as Russian cyberattacks.

He said that as the administration evaluates “the changed strategic environment in Europe, we are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.”

Puzzling Move

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified alongside McKeon at the Dec. 1 hearing and said the administration is “puzzled as to why” Russia thinks it needs a noncompliant GLCM since the targets in range of the new missile could be covered by Moscow’s strategic nuclear forces. Gottemoeller also noted that the Russians have been developing new air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, which are not prohibited by the INF Treaty.

McKeon said the prohibited missile program would create new military threats to the United States and its allies, but did not elaborate, citing classification restrictions.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House strategic forces subcommittee, expressed displeasure with the apparent change in the administration’s approach. He said the specific response options prepared “a year ago for consideration are now going to…just blend in” to the broader response to other challenges posed by Russia. As a result, there will be “no action on the violation of the INF Treaty,” he said.

McKeon said Russian officials would take notice of the broader military capabilities in which the United States is investing and “start to understand” that their treaty noncompliance “is not making them any more secure.” If Russia continues in its noncompliance, he said, “we can always assess whether to take other measures.” McKeon did not specify what those other measures might be or if they would come from the three response categories the administration had originally been considering.

Gottemoeller said that the U.S. “announcement of Russia’s violation…has imposed significant costs on Russia” and prevented Moscow from developing the system “unconstrained.”

She added that the administration continues to “consider economic measures with regard to the INF [Treaty].”

Policy Shift?

One European analyst said McKeon’s testimony marked a clear shift away from the administration’s previous focus on a response that was specific to the treaty and represents “a significant political decision.” In a Dec. 28 email to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said the change is “understandable” because many of the options for U.S. responses “would be relevant for deterrence and defense” of NATO even if Russia returned to compliance, especially defense against different kinds of Russian cruise missile threats. He added that the new framing of the response would also avoid the risk of contentious debate within NATO about how to respond to the violation.

Soviet inspectors and their U.S. escorts stand among dismantled U.S. Pershing II missiles at an unidentified site on January 14, 1989, as part of the regime of destruction and inspections under the INF Treaty. (Photo credit: MSGT Jose Lopez Jr./Defense Department)But he expressed concern that the lack of clear and specific response could call into question the resolve of the United States to respond to arms control violations. Furthermore, he said, Russia might now have little incentive to return to compliance with the INF Treaty because the overall U.S. efforts to strengthen the defense of Europe will be made irrespective of Russia’s compliance status.

In a Dec. 23 interview, Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, said the approach described by McKeon did not necessarily reflect a shift in strategy and seemed to fit in the “countervailing” category of response options that McKeon first outlined in 2014. Pifer also said the approach gives the next administration the ability to pursue additional responses that are specific to the INF Treaty “down the road” if it so chooses.

In a Dec. 15 email, a Republican Senate staffer said, “Treating the INF Treaty violation as part of Russia’s larger pattern of behavior is fine – as long [as] US actions truly address the strategic implications of the violation.” According to the staffer, this “requires the US to adjust its nuclear posture to take into account the new reality of Russia’s increasing reliance on nuclear weapons, particularly cruise missiles.”

The fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Nov. 25, calls for a plan for the development of the three kinds of response capabilities the administration said it had planned to pursue to counter Russia’s new GLCM program and requires the Defense Department to make a recommendation on a response capability. (See ACT, November 2015.)

McKeon said the Defense Department will complete the report required by the bill. 

What's New Text: 

Posted: January 14, 2016

Avoiding War in Europe: The Risks From NATO-Russian Close Military Encounters

With NATO-Russian relations in their current state, a single event or combination of events could result in a war, even if neither side intends it...

November 2015

By Ian Kearns

A Russian warship moves through the waters near the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol on March 7, 2014, as part of a blockade of Ukrainian ships. [Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]On March 3, 2014, a Russian warplane with its transponders switched off came within seconds of colliding with a Danish civilian airliner carrying 132 passengers from Copenhagen to Rome. SAS flight 737 averted a collision that day only because of evasive action taken by its pilot.1

An almost identical incident occurred nine months later, on December 12, again involving a Russian warplane and a civilian airliner that had just left Copenhagen.

Barely a year after the first incident, in March of this year, Russian Su-30 multirole fighter jets used two NATO warships in the Black Sea as targets in high-intensity training exercises.2 The purpose of the exercise appears to have been to provoke the NATO ships into taking defensive action so that the pilots of the Russian aircraft could observe that action and practice countermaneuvers.

Over the last 18 months, the European Leadership Network has logged more than 60 such dangerous incidents in the Euro-Atlantic area.3 The wider catalogue of events includes mock Russian cruise missile attack runs on targets in North America and Denmark, instances of Russian and Western fighter aircraft coming within meters of each other while on maneuvers, a series of submarine hunts off the coasts of Scotland and Sweden, and the abduction by Russian agents in September 2014 of an Estonian security service operative on Estonian, and therefore NATO, territory. In recent weeks, as Russian air operations have commenced in Syria and instances of Russian violations of Turkish airspace have come to light, the theater of these close and dangerous military encounters and incidents appears to have broadened from the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East.

There is a wider military and political context to these events that makes them all the more worrying. In addition to the close NATO-Russian military encounters now occurring, a general deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the West has become visible in an action-reaction cycle of military exercises being conducted in Europe. Russia is conducting more exercises than NATO, and the two sets of exercises are dissimilar in scale. A Russian “snap” exercise conducted in March, for example, brought together 80,000 military personnel in operations focused on the Arctic and the Baltic Sea regions whereas NATO’s largest exercise in many years, Trident Juncture, which started last month, drew about 36,000 military personnel. Moreover, while NATO exercises are aimed at reassuring allies in the eastern part of the alliance in the context of Russian support for separatists in Ukraine, Russia is using its exercises at least partly to intimidate and unsettle its neighbors.

Despite these important differences, however, there are similarities in the exercises of the two sides. These similarities say something important about what is occurring.

Both sides are using their exercises to practice a rapid mobilization and redeployment of forces over long distances to strengthen what they perceive to be their most strategically exposed areas. NATO is conducting exercises with a view to being able to protect the Baltic states and Poland. Russia is focusing on its border areas with Latvia and Estonia; Kaliningrad, the Russian territory between Lithuania and Poland; the Arctic; and occupied Crimea. The exercises of both involve ground, air, and naval forces in joint operations and include high-intensity combined arms training, the conducting and repelling of amphibious assaults, and engagements with low-level irregular forces.

Most importantly, despite protestations by both sides that the exercises are aimed at no particular adversary, it is clear that each side is exercising with the most likely war plans of the other in mind. The Russian military is preparing for a confrontation with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a confrontation with Russia. This does not mean either side has the political intent to start a war, but it does mean that both believe a war is no longer unthinkable. Many in NATO believe that the demonstration of resolve that the NATO exercises and additional force deployments in eastern Europe represent is essential to deterring Russian aggression and therefore to keeping the peace in Europe. In NATO’s view, the exercises are not a problem, but a virtue. Whether this view is justified—given Russia’s recent behavior, it may well be—the total effect of the developments described here is to generate a growing sense of insecurity on both sides. Russian exercises are seen as a provocation and a threat in the West, and NATO exercises and new deployments are seen as threatening in Moscow.

The developing situation also has a nuclear dimension. In a documentary made for a domestic Russian audience in March 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he had considered putting Russian nuclear forces on alert during the operation to annex Crimea. Just a few weeks later, the Russian ambassador to Denmark appeared to tell that country that if it took part in NATO’s emerging missile defense shield, it could expect to go on the target list for Russian nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict. These instances of what are seen as nuclear intimidation and nuclear saber rattling are creating pressure for a NATO response.

Last month, in response to Russia’s recent behavior, Adam Thomson, the UK ambassador to NATO, said that since the end of the Cold War, NATO has conducted exercises with conventional weapons and nuclear weapons but not “the transition from one to the other.” Now, however, “[t]hat is a recommendation that is being looked at. It is safe to say the UK does see merit in making sure we know how, as an Alliance, to transition up the escalatory ladder in order to strengthen our deterrence.”4

Meanwhile, Crimea and Ukraine have become flash points of a much more fundamental political disagreement. Not only are there significant policy differences between Russia and the West, but on the Russian side, a growing number of military and national security officials appear to believe Western policy is aimed at overthrowing Putin and weakening the Russian state to the point where it can be effectively destroyed and dismembered. Claims that the removal of the Yanukovych government in Ukraine was a Western-backed unconstitutional coup and a trial run for a “color revolution” in Russia itself are dismissed as rhetoric in the West, but are more deep-rooted in Moscow than some Western policymakers appear willing to acknowledge.5 It therefore seems safe to assume that current Russian behavior is driven as much by a concern for regime survival as it is by a concern for geopolitical advantage or by disagreement with specific policies of the West.

Many in the West at the same time believe that Russia is seeking to change the post-Cold War settlement, or perhaps even the post-World War II settlement, in Europe in a number of ways, including by use of force if necessary. The charge sheet here concerns changes to the borders of the Georgian state since 2008 and events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine over the past two years. It also includes the provision of funding and support to nationalist political parties hostile to the European integration project in central and western Europe and the use of energy as an instrument to influence the domestic and foreign policy choices of a number of states in NATO and the European Union. For many, it is becoming apparent that Russia is a revisionist power in western as well as eastern Europe.

Whether or not the current situation amounts to a new Cold War, the upshot is a confrontation in which both sides now perceive their fundamental interests to be at stake.

At the Mercy of Events

Too few appear to recognize that the current cocktail of incidents, mistrust, changed military posture, and nuclear signaling is creating the conditions in which a single event or combination of events could result in a NATO-Russian war, even if neither side intends it. To understand why this is not an exaggerated concern, one might consider the sequence of events that easily could have transpired if the aforementioned SAS civilian airliner en route from Copenhagen to Rome had collided with the Russian warplane.

The outrage and uproar in Western capitals at what would certainly have been a very serious loss of life would have been understandably huge. Media and public pressure to act quickly against Russia would have been irresistible. A demand for an immediate cessation of Russian military flights with transponders switched off, especially in civilian air corridors, would have been issued. If that demand did not elicit an immediate positive response from Moscow, a move that might imply acceptance of guilt, previously routine civil aviation flights in European airspace would have been declared at risk. In that situation, those flights would have to have been suspended, which would have been politically unacceptable and economically very damaging, or NATO would have needed to begin military interdiction of Russian aircraft. Any European government not willing to support such interdiction would have been taking its future in its hands, exposing itself to claims that it was weak in the face of unacceptable Russian behavior or risking a further incident while doing little or nothing to prevent it.

Amid this kind of uproar in the West, Putin would be highly likely to exhibit sadness at the loss of life and to offer full Russian assistance in any inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened. At the same time, he almost certainly would point out that Western military aircraft themselves fly with transponders switched off and that the Russian military aircraft involved in this particular incident was operating in full compliance with international law and was in international airspace. Although not ruling out talks to manage the situation, his domestic political persona would constrain his options. He has invested a lot of time and effort in portraying himself to his own people as a strong leader, capable of standing up to the West while making Russia respected again on the international stage. Capitulating to Western pressure outright would be politically damaging.

Diplomacy might save the day, but that could not be assumed. The scene would be set for the planes, naval vessels, and land forces of a nuclear-armed state and a nuclear-armed alliance to continue coming up against each other. This time, however, the close encounters would not be part of planned exercises or a game of brinkmanship, which is dangerous enough, but would come amid a real standoff over who had the right to fly where and under what circumstances, with everyone’s fundamental interests and full political prestige at stake.

Little or nothing is being done to avert this kind of crisis, which could be triggered by any one of the other dangerous incidents and encounters that have taken place over the last 18 months. This absence of action is shocking. If such a crisis resulted in military hostilities, there would be no telling where those hostilities might lead and, given the nuclear arsenals on both sides, what the end result could be.

Agreements on Avoiding Incidents

The Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas, usually known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement, was signed by U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev at their summit in Moscow in May 1972. It is a technical military-to-military agreement rather than a statement of political principle. It requires each side to avoid dangerous maneuvers, refrain from mock attacks that might simulate weapons use against aircraft or ships, and avoid dropping objects close to ships to hinder their navigation. It also requires the surveillance ships and aircraft of one side to communicate with the other.

The agreement was a response to a dangerous pattern of military activities, including instances of each side’s warships maneuvering very close to those of the other, and a pattern of dangerous maritime air surveillance involving close overflights of warships. The latter was often perceived as harassment by the ships’ commanders. The agreement proved its worth when, during the Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, it helped ensure there were no serious incidents while 150 U.S. and Soviet warships shared the crowded waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities was signed on June 12, 1989, and entered into force on January 1, 1990. Like the Incidents at Sea Agreement, it governs the activities and personnel of each side when operating in close proximity to the other in peacetime. It focuses on four categories of military activity: military operations by one side near the territory of the other; the use of lasers, particularly those directed at aircraft cockpits, which could be harmful to personnel; operations in areas of high tension, which either party could designate as a “special caution area”; and interference with command-and-control networks. In each of these areas, the agreement requires caution, communication to avoid dangerous incidents and misunderstandings, and action to terminate injurious activity if a problem is identified by the other side. Unlike the Incidents at Sea Agreement, it incorporates certain operations on land as well as those at sea and in the air. It also sets out agreed communications signals and frequencies to be used by the aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles of each side. A joint military commission was set up to issue an annual assessment of compliance and consider how the agreement could be enhanced.—IAN KEARNs

    Negotiating a New Instrument

    The risk of a serious crisis and the absence of action to prevent one led to a recent paper from the Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe, made up of senior figures from Russia and the rest of Europe. This group called for the NATO-Russia Council to be convened urgently to discuss a possible new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NATO and Russia on rules of behavior in air and maritime encounters between the two sides. This proposal has been signed or endorsed by a total of 78 senior military, political, and diplomatic leaders drawn from across the European continent.

    The task force proposal draws explicitly on an agreement signed by China and the United States in late 2014. This U.S.-Chinese MOU sets out the principles and procedures for communication during encounters between military vessels and aircraft and requires each side to give timely hazard warnings if military exercises and live weapons firing are to take place in an area where the military vessels and aircraft of the other may be operational.6 It also sets out a series of rules for establishing mutual trust. These include a commitment, when conducting operations, to communicate in a timely fashion about the planned maneuvers of military vessels and military aircraft. They also include a list of actions that should be avoided, such as simulation of attacks by aiming guns, missiles, fire control radar, torpedo tubes, or other weapons in the direction of military vessels and military aircraft encountered.

    The agreement specifies the radio frequencies to be used for communication and the signals vocabulary to be used if pilots, commanding officers, or masters of vessels experience language difficulties as they communicate with one another. It also contains a provision for each party to conduct an annual meeting, led by senior military officers, to assess application of the agreement in the previous year and to deal with any problems or issues that have arisen during that time.

    With regard to the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, the 1972 Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas, usually known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement, and the 1989 Agreement on Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities (see box) operate in a similar way. These two agreements could serve as the basis for a more multilateralized arrangement involving all NATO members and Russia and even NATO partners such as Sweden and Finland. Russian and NATO officials should pursue this objective with urgency.

    Some apparently still think such a deal is not necessary. In off-the-record conversations, some military commanders stress that close military encounters of the kind now under way in Europe were a fact of life during the Cold War and that well-trained, professional military personnel are more than up to the task of handling them without incident.7

    Furthermore, some diplomats and politicians, particularly in eastern Europe, see the proposal as dangerously corrosive to Western unity with regard to Russia. This latter group sees any attempt to negotiate a mechanism for reducing the risks of close military encounters with Russia as a reward for aggressive Russian behavior and as an unwelcome opportunity for some Western countries, suspected of wishing to return their relations with Russia to “business as usual,” to advance their case. According to this view, a move to negotiate a new instrument would encourage further aggressive Russian behavior and dissipate the message of resolve, deterrence, and a commitment to collective defense that NATO has been trying to construct and maintain since the annexation of Crimea.8

    On the Russian side, there also are some voices arguing against this proposal, seeing in it a Western tactic aimed at distracting attention from matters of greater significance, such as the eastward enlargement of NATO, the failure of the West to engage in dialogue on future arrangements for European security as a whole, and a lack of willingness to address wider Russian security concerns from missile defense to developments in conventional prompt global-strike systems.

    The arguments on all sides are understandable in the context of what is now a total breakdown of trust between NATO and Russia and a lack of confidence among some allies within NATO. Ultimately, however, they are not persuasive.

    The very existence of the recent U.S.-Chinese MOU validates a concern over the risks that are run when the military forces of states that are not allies come into close proximity with one another. That agreement makes clear the importance of having protocols and military procedures in place to manage events in real time rather than relying on agreements to refrain from certain kinds of activity in the first place. Although some military commanders seem less worried about such incidents, many more believe leaving the outcome of close military encounters to chance or the split-second decisions of individual pilots and other military personnel is unnecessarily dangerous.

    The more recent dialogue between Russia and the United States on the subject of “deconflicting” the roles of the U.S.-led coalition and Russian military forces deployed in and around Syria is another timely recognition of the need for and logic of a new multilateral instrument to manage the risks.

    Although there has been some concern about the ultimate diplomatic consequence of negotiating such an instrument in Europe, the necessity of having the conversation with regard to Syria was realized almost immediately once it became clear that the Russian military presence in Syria was being increased and was changing in character and capability. To put it bluntly, it became evident to everyone that U.S. warplanes operating over Syria could be accidentally shot down by Russian air defense systems being deployed there, embedded U.S. special forces on the ground could be the victim of Russian air attacks, and Russian and U.S. military aircraft could be operating in an uncoordinated way in the same airspace. This overall situation and several instances of Russian warplanes entering Turkish airspace from Syria prompted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to tell a press conference on October 6 that “Russia must deconflict its military activities in Syria” and that “it’s unacceptable to violate the airspace of another country, and this is exactly what we were afraid of, that incidents, accidents may create dangerous situations.”9

    It is difficult to see why dialogue and the negotiation of more-formal arrangements makes strategic sense between China and the United States in the East and South China seas and why deconflicting makes sense in Syria, but neither apparently makes sense between NATO and Russia in Europe.

    Deterrence Is Not Enough

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 6.  [Photo credit: Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images]The argument that an attempt to negotiate a new instrument between NATO and Russia in Europe could weaken deterrence also is not persuasive. It is a reasonable concern, echoing debates on whether to engage in détente and associated steps toward superpower conflict prevention and crisis management during the Cold War. Yet, it is important to recall that the underlying rationale of détente was a lowering of tension with the Soviet Union to avoid the possibility of an accidental conflict and the potential for catastrophic nuclear war. Détente emphatically was not nor was it intended to be the end of superpower competition or of differences between the Soviet Union and the United States.

    The impetus for dialogue in that period, as manifested in the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, to cite two examples, was an acceptance of the need for mutual restraint and the adoption of measures to avoid accidental war. This approach was seen as the only basis for mutual survival. The nuclear shadow was ever present, and the fear of nuclear war was the driving force. In essence, what followed the near catastrophe of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was a developing belief that the task of avoiding war between nuclear-armed states could not be left to deterrence alone. Other mechanisms were needed to keep the peace and, no matter what disagreements and confrontations existed, these mechanisms needed to be negotiated and implemented.                 

    Looking at the current absence of dialogue between NATO and Russia and at arguments against negotiating a new instrument to manage close military encounters, one is struck by what appears to be nuclear amnesia, nuclear complacency, or both. If a military confrontation between Russia and NATO were to develop today, for whatever reason, the risks and the potential consequences would be the same as they were during the Cold War.

    For these reasons, the case for a new instrument to help manage the risks in the Euro-Atlantic area, and in particular to manage the risks between NATO members and Russia, is strong. The call for negotiation of such an instrument chimes with the times and with approaches being used in other theaters. Above all, it reflects the lessons of history. To pretend the status quo is safe or acceptable is to abdicate the responsibility of leadership and to leave the security of Europe and potentially of the world at the mercy of events.


    Ian Kearns is co-founder and director of the European Leadership Network. He previously was acting director and deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in the United Kingdom and deputy chair of the institute’s independent All-Party Commission on National Security in the 21st Century.


    ENDNOTES

    1.  “SAS Flight in Russian Spy Plane Near Miss,” The Local, May 8, 2014, http://www.thelocal.se/20140508/sas-plane-in-russian-spy-plane-near-miss.

    2.  Government-owned Russian media even bragged about this incident. See Sputnik International, “Russian Jets Penetrate NATO Ships’ Air Defenses in Black Sea,” March 19, 2015, http://sputniknews.com/russia/20150304/1019036875.html.

    3.  Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” European Leadership Network (ELN), November 2014, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2014/11/09/6375e3da/Dangerous%20Brinkmanship.pdf. For a further update on incidents, see Ian Kearns, Łukasz Kulesa, and Thomas Frear, “Russia-West Dangerous Brinkmanship Continues,” ELN, March 12, 2015, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/russia--west-dangerous-brinkmanship-continues-_2529.html.

    4.  “Britain Backs Return of Cold War Nuclear Drills as NATO Hardens Against Russia,” The Telegraph, October 8, 2015.

    5.  The term “color revolution” is a reference to labels used by the world’s media to describe previous waves of revolutionary change in a number of countries. Examples include the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

    6.  “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” November 9, 2014, sec. 1, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/141112_MemorandumOfUnderstandingRegarding
    Rules.pdf.

    7.  Between March 2014 and October 2015, the author conducted face-to-face, telephone, and e-mail interviews on background with a number of senior military figures from NATO countries and Russia. The statement made in this paragraph reflects the view of a minority of those interviewed.

    8.  Since the publication of the position paper by the Task Force on Greater Europe calling for a new memorandum of understanding, this view has been expressed in August 2015 to the author directly by a former Baltic state defense minister and by several ambassador-level diplomats from the same region.

    9.  “Pre-Ministerial Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg,” NATO, October 6, 2015, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_123471.htm. NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on October 8.

    Posted: November 2, 2015

    UK Party Leader Shuns Nuclear Arms Use

    November 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament conference in London on October 17. [Photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images]Ahead of a possible decision next year to proceed with the replacement of the United Kingdom’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent, the new leader of the country’s Labour Party said he would not authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he were prime minister.

    “We are not in the era of the Cold War anymore; it finished a long time ago,” Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC in a Sept. 30 interview.

    “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons.”

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron strongly criticized Corbyn’s remarks, stating in an Oct. 4 interview with the BBC that “[i]f you…believe like me that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified.”

    The UK currently possesses four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines sometimes are also called Tridents.) The government is planning to replace these submarines with a fleet of four new ones.

    The first new Trident submarine is slated to enter service in 2028.

    Corbyn said he opposes replacing the Tridents. “There are many in the military that do not want Trident renewed because they see it as an obsolete thing they don’t need,” he said.

    In 2011, the government approved a five-year preparatory research and design phase for the new submarines. A final investment decision on the program, known as Main Gate, is scheduled for 2016. But it is unclear when exactly the decision will occur or whether the Conservative Party, which strongly supports the replacement of Trident and currently holds a majority in Parliament, will submit the decision to a vote.

    In 2006, the UK Ministry of Defence estimated the cost of designing and building the new submarines to be 15-20 billion pounds (about $23-31 billion). Reuters reported on Oct. 25 that the total cost to build and operate the new submarine fleet will reach 167 billion pounds, citing figures provided to Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of Parliament, by the Ministry of Defence.

    Jon Thompson, the top civil servant at the ministry, told UK lawmakers on Oct. 14 that the Trident replacement plan is “the single biggest future financial risk” facing the UK defense budget. “The project is a monster,” he added.

    Posted: November 2, 2015

    Russia Still Violating INF Treaty, U.S. Says

    Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to a State Department report.

    July/August 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work testifies at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 25. He said the United States would not allow Russia “to gain a significant military advantage through [its] violation of an arms control treaty.” (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)Russia remains in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to an annual State Department report released on June 5.

    The report, which surveys compliance with arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament commitments by the United States and other countries, reiterated the finding, first announced in the 2014 version of the report, that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

    The new analysis says the Obama administration had noted concern about Russia’s compliance “in earlier, classified versions” of the report but did not publish a formal noncompliance determination until 2014.

    The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russian.

    The U.S. government has raised its concerns about Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty on multiple occasions over the past two years. Moscow continues to deny that it has violated the agreement.

    As in the 2014 report, this year’s report did not specify the type of Russian cruise missile in question, the number of tests conducted, or the location of the tests.

    Some media reports have focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K short-range cruise missile as the missile that precipitated the U.S. allegation. That system uses a road-mobile launcher, similar to the Iskander-M, which is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

    But in a June 23 interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the R-500 is not the missile that the United States has “determined is in violation” of the treaty. She added that the U.S. government is “confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring.”

    The 2015 report contains two paragraphs not in last year’s report that highlight treaty provisions stating that “if a launcher has been tested for launching a GLCM” or “contained or launched a particular type of GLCM,” then “all launchers of that type shall be considered to be launchers of that type of GLCM.”

    In a June 7 posting on the blog Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Pavel Podvig, an affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said that these additions “seem to support” his theory “that the violation is a technicality” involving tests of a long-range sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) from a mobile GLCM launcher.

    The testing of a SLCM from a mobile launcher would constitute a violation of the treaty, Podvig argues, because the treaty requires that any missile that is not a GLCM covered by the treaty should be test-launched from a fixed land-based launcher used solely for test purposes and distinguishable from GLCM launchers.

    A Congressional Research Service report on Russia’s compliance with the INF Treaty, released on June 2, questioned the SLCM explanation, stating it “seems imperfect.” 

    “U.S. officials have repeatedly referred to the violation as a test of a ground-launched cruise missile, lending less credence to the view that the United States might have misidentified tests of a sea-launched missile,” the report says.

    In a June 11 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry described the allegation in the State Department report as “completely false.” 

    The statement reiterated Russian concerns about U.S. military activities that “are based on a very loose interpretation of the INF Treaty provisions,” such as “plans to deploy the vertical missile launch systems . . . at missile defense bases in Romania and Poland,” use of “target missiles with characteristics similar to those of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles” in missile defense tests, and the manufacture of armed drones that “fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-based cruise missiles.” According to Moscow, those actions constitute violations of the treaty.

    Gottemoeller disputed these counterallegations, stating that the “United States remains in compliance with the INF Treaty.” 

    In testimony at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on June 25, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work reiterated that the United States “will not allow the Russian Federation to gain a significant military advantage through [its] violation of an arms control treaty.”

    He said the Defense Department is “developing and analyzing response options” for President Barack Obama and will consult with its allies on the options. 

    Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said in December 2014 that the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

    Posted: July 8, 2015

    UK Submariner Cites Safety Flaws

    The Royal Navy dismissed a seaman whose online allegations of safety breaches aboard the United Kingdom’s nuclear-armed submarines were rejected by the Ministry of Defence.

    July/August 2015

    By Jefferson Morley

    The ballistic missile submarine HMS Victorious moves through the water off the west coast of Scotland on April 4, 2013. (Photo by Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)The UK Navy has dishonorably discharged a sailor who posted an online indictment of safety issues aboard the country’s nuclear-armed submarines.

    William McNeilly was released from service June 17, a month after posting an online statement alleging up to 30 safety and security problems in and around the United Kingdom’s four nuclear-armed Trident subs. McNeilly, a 25-year-old native of Belfast, was stationed for three months earlier this year at the Faslane base where the subs are housed between tours at sea. In his 18-page letter, which was posted on the WikiLeaks website, McNeilly described himself as “a Strategic Weapons Systems engineer who has sacrificed everything to tell the public how close it is to a nuclear catastrophe.”

    McNeilly said fire and floods threaten the safety of the subs’ nuclear weapons, while lax security procedures could enable terrorists to attack. Bans on electronic gear, e-cigarettes, and shaving (to keep hair particles from circulating in the air) are not enforced, he said.

    After some members of parliament praised McNeilly in late May, Michael Fallon, the UK defense secretary, dismissed his claims as unwarranted.

    “Most of McNeilly’s concerns proved to be either factually incorrect or the result of mis- or partial understanding,” Fallon said in May 28 statement. “Some drew on historic, previously known events, none of which had compromised our deterrent capability,” he said. When appropriate to do so, “lessons had been learned to develop our procedures as part of a continuous improvement programme,” he said.

    On June 18, the day after the navy announcement, McNeilly posted a nine-page letter to supporters saying he had been dishonorably discharged.

    “I believe Home Office are still doing their investigation, but that’s nothing to worry about,” McNeilly wrote on Scribd, a document-sharing site. “Most people know that I acted in the interest of national security.” 

    Trident Safety Record

    In an analysis of McNeilly’s comments, John Ainslie, coordinator for the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, noted that there have been several incidents involving UK nuclear subs. His compilation includes a submarine stranded in Gibraltar from 2000 to 2001, a collision between French and UK submarines in 2009, and a submarine running aground in 2010. The report says that it “places McNeilly’s allegations in the context of known safety issue[s] with British nuclear submarines.”

    The Trident issue has become contentious in British politics with the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has called for nuclear disarmament. Last September, Scottish voters rejected the SNP’s call for independence and nuclear disarmament in a referendum. (See ACT, October 2014.) The results of the May 15 national parliamentary elections further fortified parliamentary supporters of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, who have pledged to provide the funding to allow replacement of the four-submarine fleet by 2030. (See ACT, June 2015.)

    In his May 15 Web posting, McNeilly recounted what he called security lapses bred by the habits of daily routine and the indolence of some sailors. He also cited safety concerns about the maintenance of the submarines, particularly about the risk of fire or explosion near the Trident’s missiles in which nuclear warheads are located near one of the missile’s rocket motors.

    McNeilly quoted a passage from the Trident safety manual as acknowledging the risk of “a rocket motor propellant fire.” According to McNeilly, the manual states that “an accident or enemy action may cause rupture of the RB [re-entry body, the shell of the missile], burning or possible detonation of the HE [high explosive] and release of radioactive contamination.”

    Vulnerabilities

    McNeilly is not the first to call attention to this aspect of Trident’s design. A 1990 Washington Post article reported that nuclear safety analysts were concerned that a volatile explosive used in the warhead of the Trident missiles could explode in an accidental fire, “producing forces that could compress the nuclear core in each bomb and begin a nuclear chain reaction.” The article went on to say that the Trident missile “is considered particularly vulnerable to such an accident because its multiple warheads are arranged in a circle around the propellant fuel in the missile’s third stage.”

    Nick Ritchie, a lecturer on international security at the University of York, said in a June 19 e-mail that McNeilly “at times conflate[s] the risk of the detonation of the high explosive in a warhead and/or missile ­propellant that could scatter the warheads’ fissile material (plutonium and uranium)” with the risk of an even worse event, “the inadvertent detonation of the warheads themselves resulting in a catastrophic nuclear explosion.” 

    “It is difficult to independently judge the veracity of specific claims without having experienced day-to-day operational practices at the Faslane Naval Base [on board] UK nuclear-armed submarines,” Ritchie said. “However, the account is detailed and supports a public history of problems in the UK submarine fleet and nuclear weapons enterprise.”

    Posted: July 8, 2015

    NATO Monitoring Russian Saber Rattling

    May 2015

    By Kingston Reif

    NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, shown in this November 2014 photo, said recent Russian actions and comments dealing with the country’s nuclear arsenal were “irresponsible.” (NATO)NATO is in the process of determining whether “increased Russian attention to nuclear weapons” should prompt steps such as military exercises “to make sure that there is no doubt about the effectiveness of our deterrent,” Alexander Vershbow, the alliance’s deputy secretary-general, said last month. 

    In a video posted on the website of Defense News on March 29, Vershbow said the Russians “are flaunting their nuclear capability, they are holding more nuclear exercises, and they are talking about their nuclear capabilities” as “part of their messaging.” 

    “Maybe this is just rhetoric, but it is irresponsible nonetheless,” he added.

    Among other recent nuclear threats from Russian officials, Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, said on March 21 that “Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles” if Denmark joins NATO’s ballistic missile defense system. 

    It is unclear what specific nuclear-related steps, if any, NATO may be considering to respond to these threats. 

    On the issue of NATO’s nuclear policy posture, Vershbow said the alliance members “think we still have an effective posture.”

    In an April 10 e-mail, a NATO official said that “NATO does not comment on military contingency planning.” 

    But the official said that NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), which acts as the alliance’s senior body on nuclear matters, convened Feb. 5 during the last meeting of NATO defense ministers. The NPG meetings take place about once a year and “provide an opportunity for Allies to address the safety and effectiveness of our nuclear forces,” he said. 

    The official added that NATO’s “nuclear readiness levels have not changed since the start of the Ukraine crisis.” Relations between NATO and Russia have deteriorated significantly since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued action in eastern Ukraine, resulting in the imposition of Western economic sanctions against Russia. The official also said NATO is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

    On the other hand, he emphasized that “NATO is currently implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.” 

    Such steps include increasing NATO’s presence on the territory of the alliance’s easternmost members and doubling the size of the NATO Response Force to up to 30,000 troops. The response force is a multinational force that the alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. 

    “All of this shows that NATO is serious about deterrence, and stands ready to defend all Allies against any threat,” the official said.

    What's New Text: 

    Posted: May 6, 2015

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