17 February 2007

Cold Peace? Russia and the INF Treaty

“In connection with this I would like to recall that in the 1980s the USSR and the United States signed an agreement on destroying a whole range of small- and medium-range missiles but these documents do not have a universal character. Today many other countries have these missiles, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel. Many countries are working on these systems and plan to incorporate them as part of their weapons arsenals. And only the United States and Russia bear the responsibility to not create such weapons systems.”

“It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security”

With that statement, given in the context of the speech last week that criticized the US for unilateral action it would appear that Russia is preparing to unilaterally disengage from the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) treaty. Several commentators and analysts began to focus on this potential action late in the week, some with undiluted condemnation of the Bush Administration and dark warnings of a new Cold War.

To be sure, these pages do not and will not give a clean pass to Russia. Under President Putin we have seen a consolidation of power in a few organs of the national government, a willingness to provide support for known proliferators and agents provocateurs who seek to acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them and regain hegemony through the use of the oil weapon. Critics of these moves often find themselves the subject of extreme harassment or, increasingly so it seems, the target of an assassin. In the matter of the INF treaty though, one needs to stop and review the bidding before casting stones.

Historical Context

The INF Treaty was a signatory event – the first nuclear arms treaty that not only prohibited an entire class of weapon, but established the kind of intrusive inspection régime that was later instituted for the START accords. Nuclear configured intermediate range forces, especially missiles, were a major part of the heating up of the Cold War in the 1980’s. By the mid-1970’s, the Soviets had begun replacing older silo-based SS-4 and -5 IRBM/MRBMs with the road-mobile SS-20. The SS-20 was a substantial leap in capability and represented a significant increase in the threat posed by Soviet forces and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact against Western Europe. Derived from the first two stages of the SS-16 (one of the early attempts by the Soviets to develop a road mobile ICBM), the SS-20’s significantly increased throw-weight allowed it carry up to three multiple independently targeted warheads (MIRV) of 150 kilotons apiece. CEP was also markedly improved – from 5,000 meters (Soviet sources) for the SS-4 to less than 450 meters for the SS-20. With exceptional range (5,000-7500 km), allowing full coverage of Europe from deep within Russia and being road-mobile (easy concealment), the SS-20 was a counterforce weapon that had preemptive strike written all over it. When viewed in the context of the strategic nuclear parity achieved by the Soviets earlier in the 70’s, the deployment of the SS-20 threatened the umbrella of nuclear deterrence provided by US forces – the critical component of NATO. By threatening this guarantee, the Soviets hoped to “de-couple” Europe from its partner across the Atlantic. Given the state of US forces at the time, this was not altogether a path of questionable success.

Arrayed against the improved Soviet intermediate forces (they were also deploying the Backfire and SS-21) were a mixture of NATO MRBM’s and SLBM’s (to include the Pershing I and Polaris/Poseidon) and dual-use aircraft (F-111, F-4, A-6, Buccaneer, etc.). The bulk of these forces were US or had US dual-key control (as was the case with Pershing I’s under West German control). Lacking a definitive system (or systems) to directly counter the SS-20 deployment, the first step attempted to redress this imbalance was the consideration of deploying the Enhanced Radiation Weapon, aka the Neutron Bomb. However, in one of the most egregious decisions by President Carter and his administration, the US opted not to deploy the weapon (leaving it instead in “deployment ready” status in the US) which left Allied leadership (which had expended political capitol supporting this unpopular deployment) out on a limb. It seemed the goals of the Soviet plan to de-couple Europe from the US might indeed succeed.

On 12 Nov 79, after a two-year study, NATO ministers unanimously adopted a "dual track" strategy to counter Soviet SS-20 deployments. One track called for arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce INF forces to the lowest possible level; the second track called for deployment in Western Europe, beginning in December 1983, of 464 single-warhead U.S. ground-launched cruise (GLCM) missiles and 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles. With strong leadership in place in Washington, London, Bonn and Rome following elections in the early 80’s, a united front was established and the Soviets walked out of the first round of negotiations in November, 1983. Deployment began the following month in spite of extensive protests in Europe and the US. Over the course of the next few years, the US and Soviet Union engaged in a series of proposals/counter-proposals and eventually, in July 87, the Soviets, under Gorbachev, agreed to a “double zero” proposal that would eliminate intermediate- and shorter-range missiles of the US and Soviet Union only, thereby not including the national forces of France and Britain. The treaty was signed 28 May 88 and entered into force 1 Jun 88. In late April and early May 91, the United States eliminated its last ground-launched cruise missile and ground-launched ballistic missile covered under the INF Treaty. The last declared Soviet SS-20 was eliminated on 11 May 91. A total of 2,692 missiles were eliminated after the Treaty's entry-into-force.

Today’s Ballistic Missile Environment and INF

In the intervening 16 years since the last US and Soviet intermediate range missile was destroyed, the world has seen a literal explosion in the development and/or deployment of medium- and intermediate range missiles by nations that were not party to the INF treaty. Chief among these nations are (or were) China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India. Indeed, it was the 1998 launch of a Taep’o-dong 1 ICBM/space launch vehicle prototype that prompted the Rumsfeld study and subsequent re-invigoration of the US ballistic missile defense program. In order to undertake that effort, the US, under the current administration, delivered notification to Russia that it was stepping away from the 1972 ABM Treaty, citing its need to develop defenses against limited attacks from states other than Russia or by a rogue entity. Note carefully the justification – we will see it again…

So we come to the speech, presented to a gathering of ministers of defense at a conference on security in Munich. Getting much play, early on after the conference was the calling out of the US’ actions as a hyper-power, not given to be constrained under the norms of international law (as if…) and making up some rather odd pairings in an effort to show superiority over US GDP (I mean, come on now – the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China?). Buried in the text was the quote that started this article and only picked up by some commentators later in the week. Truth be told, YHS is not in the least surprised and had been expecting this for some few years. On the one hand, it is not the first time that Russia has raised the prospect. There were some indications as early as 1999 and as recently as March of 2005, with some in the Russian press attributing it to Rumsfeld as a twisted way for the US to resume nuclear testing.

Be that as it may, as soon as the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty, YHS’ internal clock started on Russia’s withdrawal from INF. That would be one reason. In the context of the speech last week, note that Putin ascribes Russian motives to being surrounded by nations with intermediate- and shorter range missiles (lifting the phrase directly from the treaty) including even, horrors, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There are a few of us who note, somewhat wryly, that this is the result of so many (proliferated) chickens coming home to roost. A look at the “threatening” countries is a veritable “Who’s Who” of former Soviet- and current Russian arms clients for anything up to and including – ballistic missiles. A third reason is cash – cold, hard arms sales cash. The market for proven, reliable ballistic missiles is far from sated. Credit the Russians with building lethal, reliable and proven ballistic missiles of all stripes (save the occasional, well, maybe more than occasional Bulava failure). Being able to market MRBMs and IRBMs that were derived from a proven ICBM like the SS-25 – a road mobile, solid fuel missile, could prove to be an irresistible draw in the current market. If it complicates the hated American missile defense system, especially in light of plans for a third site based in Europe, then all the better. Of course there is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which is a voluntary effort to stem the spread of technologies associated with the design, development and production of ballistic missiles. MTCR controls have worked exceptionally well, especially in the cases of North Korea, India, Pakistan and Iran, for example, and China too (especially in the case of transfer of guidance control improvements from US commercial interests). As the fact sheet from the Arms Control Association puts it:

“Because the regime is voluntary and the decision to export is the sole responsibility of each member, the MTCR has no penalties for transfers of controlled items. However, U.S. law mandates that Washington sanction entities-individuals, companies, or governments (whether they are MTCR members or not)-exporting MTCR-controlled items to certain countries identified as proliferators or potential threats to U.S. security. Sanctions may also be levied if the United States judges the transfer contrary to the MTCR. Typically, Washington prohibits the charged entity from signing contracts, receiving aid, or buying arms from the U.S. government for a period of two years. Sometimes the penalties can be imposed for longer lengths of time or extended to commercial imports and exports as well.”

Yes, well one can see how if Russia decided to enter the ballistic missile market with new/improved missiles that they would be grievously put off by US sanctions. To those who would argue that how could Russia export such weapons and the danger they pose to her own self-interest, YHS would simply respond that were that the case we would not be seeing such a cozy nuclear relationship that is a-budding between Russia and Iran.

If that weren’t enough, another deadline lurks in the near future – the expiration of START I in 2009. Russia has already made it clear their intention to develop MIRV capabilities for the road-mobile SS-25 and the silo-based variant, SS-27. Combined with Russia’s re-assertiveness fueled by arms and petroleum sales abroad, consolidation of power at home and hand-picked heirs that will likely continue these policies, Russian withdrawal from the INF treaty will bear close scrutiny for the real, vice stated rational and purpose and what that portends for future relations with the US. May be not a return to the days of the Cold War, but instead a Cold Peace…