By Shervin Taheran
NATO defense ministers will meet June 26 to prepare defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia does not come back into compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to a European official speaking with Arms Control Today.
The meeting will come just weeks before the United States is expected to withdraw from the treaty, alleging that Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile constitutes a treaty violation. NATO believes the missile can strike targets in Europe. (See ACT, March 2019.)
The INF Treaty bans the testing and deployment of land-based missiles that can fly distances of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. The agreement, concluded by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, significantly eased tensions in Europe over Soviet and U.S. deployments of these systems, which can reach their targets rapidly and with little warning. The likely termination of the treaty on Aug. 2 opens the door to the possible redeployment of INF Treaty-range missiles in Europe, which experts say could increase escalation risks and the potential for miscalculation in a crisis.
In an April 4 press statement following a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Washington, the ministers discussed “Russia’s ongoing violation” of the INF Treaty, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO “has no intention” to deploy “ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe.” This does not preclude deploying conventionally armed INF Treaty-range missiles in NATO countries, which is what the Trump administration has announced it is seeking to develop. (See ACT, May 2019.)
The United States is “moving forward with developing ground-launched INF [Treaty]-range missile capabilities,” senior administration officials reiterated on May 15 to Congress. The work is “designed to be reversible should Russia return to compliance by verifiably destroying its INF Treaty-violating missiles, launchers, and associated support equipment,” said David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in written testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also noted that the system ultimately developed would be “driven by our assessment of military requirements and in consultation with Congress and with our allies
Although the annual congressional funding process is ongoing, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee already released its version of the fiscal year 2020 budget, which effectively eliminated the requested funding for the three new INF Treaty-range missiles that the administration announced it would be pursuing following its withdrawal from the treaty. The House Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), is expected to follow suit in the annual defense authorization process, but Senate Republicans are expected to support the administration’s plans.