Expert Urges Transparency on Alleged Russian Arms-Treaty Violations

A Soviet intermediate-range SS-20 Saber missile on display in Kiev, Ukraine, in June 2011. An issue expert recommends that the United States publicly air its concerns about recent Russian compliance with a bilateral treaty that bans all intermediate-range missiles.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 28, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

One U.S. is­sue ex­pert is push­ing the State De­part­ment to re­port openly on an al­leged Rus­si­an vi­ol­a­tion of a treaty ban­ning in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­siles.

“State should make very clear what it is the Rus­si­ans have done, how Wash­ing­ton views that com­pli­ance, and whatever ex­cuses the Rus­si­ans are of­fer­ing,” Jef­frey Lewis, an ana­lyst at the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, wrote in a Fri­day ana­lys­is for For­eign Policy.

At is­sue are al­leg­a­tions that Mo­scow has vi­ol­ated — or at least cir­cum­ven­ted — the In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nuc­le­ar Forces Treaty. The 1987 ac­cord pro­hib­its the two nuc­le­ar su­per­powers from test­ing or de­ploy­ing any cruise or bal­list­ic mis­sile with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has privately shared with NATO na­tions its con­cerns about a po­ten­tial Rus­si­an con­tra­ven­tion of the bi­lat­er­al agree­ment, but Wash­ing­ton of­fi­cials to date have re­frained from mak­ing a form­al or de­tailed pub­lic ac­cus­a­tion of a treaty vi­ol­a­tion. Sub­stan­tial in­form­a­tion about the case re­portedly has been provided to Con­gress only in closed-door brief­ings. The State De­part­ment in Janu­ary ac­know­ledged dis­cuss­ing the mat­ter with Rus­sia.

The de­part­ment pub­lishes an an­nu­al com­pli­ance re­port as­sess­ing how na­tions are ful­filling their arms con­trol com­mit­ments. While it has been 10 years since the re­ports last touched on the INF Treaty, Lewis ar­gues the time has come for a re­newed fo­cus on the ac­cord in the up­com­ing ver­sion. Law­makers have yet to re­ceive the latest it­er­a­tion of the doc­u­ment, which was due to Con­gress in mid-April. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said only that it would be de­livered some­time this spring.

Wash­ing­ton re­portedly sus­pects that two test-fir­ings of a Rus­si­an RS-26 Rubezh bal­list­ic mis­sile in 2012 and 2013 sidestepped the treaty. While the weapon was pre­vi­ously tested at an in­ter­con­tin­ent­al range, the more re­cent launches in­volved the mis­sile trav­el­ing only ap­prox­im­ately 1,240 miles — a dis­tance that would seem to be pro­hib­ited by the INF ac­cord, ac­cord­ing to Lewis.

A sep­ar­ate pos­sible vi­ol­a­tion of the treaty in­volves Rus­sia’s test­ing of a new ground-based cruise mis­sile. As­cer­tain­ing wheth­er cruise mis­siles are be­ing tested at in­ter­me­di­ate ranges is dif­fi­cult, says Lewis, as the low-fly­ing weapons can use as much as 25 per­cent of their range mov­ing lat­er­ally rather than for­ward in one dir­ec­tion.

“Range also de­pends on how much of the flight is spent skim­ming the ter­rain, which re­quires more fuel than cruis­ing at alti­tude,” said the nuc­le­ar weapons ana­lyst.

The INF agree­ment’s defin­i­tion of a cruise mis­sile’s range is not very spe­cif­ic, ac­cord­ing to Lewis.

“At times, it seems like this treaty was draf­ted with all the pre­ci­sion of two wi­nos try­ing to work out a com­plex prob­lem in as­tro­phys­ics,” he wrote.

In ad­di­tion to call­ing for a pub­lic State De­part­ment re­port, Lewis re­com­men­ded that De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel speak out about the mat­ter and make it “clear that these sys­tems are in­con­sist­ent with the treaty.”

“Pub­licly rais­ing the is­sue is im­port­ant both to re­as­sure al­lies, but also to get Mo­scow’s at­ten­tion,” he wrote. “The Rus­si­ans are clearly sens­it­ive to the pub­lic dis­clos­ure of their activ­it­ies.”

El­bridge Colby, a fel­low at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­ic­an Se­cur­ity, in an April es­say for For­eign Af­fairs sug­gests the Pentagon re­spond to the per­ceived INF ac­cord trans­gres­sions by study­ing “wheth­er the United States does need or would sub­stan­tially be­ne­fit from INF-barred sys­tems” — a re­com­mend­a­tion that Lewis found “reas­on­able” so long as it was con­fined to only con­ven­tion­al mis­siles.

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