Print Читать на русском
Rate this article
(votes: 3, rating: 5)
 (3 votes)
Share this article
Dmitry Stefanovich

Independent military-political affairs analyst and a RIAC expert

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) is currently in severe crisis due to the announced decision of the United States to withdraw from the agreement, as well as to its research and development efforts. At the same time, if the decision makers demonstrate goodwill, the INF Treaty and other arms control agreements could still be rescued, reformatted or replaced with minimal losses and risks.

One useful step towards resolving the crisis would be to identify the specific conditions under which Russia could resume the development and deployment of medium- and shorter-range missiles. Such a decision would be particularly logical to be linked with the possibility of the United States and/or NATO deploying medium- and shorter-range offensive weapons in Europe. Other developments that would radically change the balance of forces to the detriment of Russia are also possible. At the same time, linking this specific problem to a broad range of conditions does not appear to be the proper way to go.

The INF Treaty is falling apart at the seams, creating threats to all the arms control regimes in their current form. The crisis could either bury the very principle of arms control or create an environment for a new strategic stability architecture to be developed.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) [1] is currently in severe crisis due to the announced decision of the United States to withdraw from the agreement, as well as to its research and development efforts. At the same time, if the decision makers demonstrate goodwill, the INF Treaty and other arms control agreements could still be rescued, reformatted or replaced with minimal losses and risks. The question is who needs these agreements, and why.

Is Arms Control Useful?

Let us begin with an attempt to understand why we need arms control at all today. The author’s understanding is that this international political and military-technical phenomenon can be defined as a set of measures aimed at ensuring a limited and transparent military potential to the extent sufficient for the “potential adversaries” to “deliver” the necessary number of nuclear and other warheads to each other. This guarantees that no warheads will actually be launched, and that an armed conflict will remain a purely theoretical possibility. But it should be noted that military specialists develop strategies, concepts and weapons systems suitable both for deterrence and warfighting, since deterrence is achieved by demonstrating the ability to fight a war.

On the whole, arms control somewhat increases the predictability of the potential adversary’s actions, which thus makes it possible to restrain inadvertent escalation and the excessive militarisation of foreign and domestic policy. Moreover, mutual confidence and transparency are one of the most important (but not the only, as we will discuss later) prerequisites for arms reduction and cutting the associated costs.

At present, Russia does not question the fact that the INF Treaty, if observed, is a key component of the current environment, which can be described as more or less stable. At the same time, Russian officials made regular remarks back in the 2000s that the treaty in its current format was unfair and did not meet Russia’s interests: Russia has disposed of more missiles than the United States, and it has more potentially aggressive neighbours which develop and deploy such missiles. President of the United States Donald Trump, for his part, has stated in no uncertain terms that the INF Treaty does not meet the interests of the United States, as Russia has been “breaching” it, and also because the limitation it imposes are exclusively bilateral.

New weapon systems emerge as technology advances: the INF Treaty was signed in the late 1980s, but technological progress has continued since then, despite a dramatic reduction in military budgets. One interesting development is the so-called Strategic Fires for the U.S. Army: a cannon and a hypersonic glider with ranges of 1000-plus and 2000-plus kilometres, respectively. In fact, these weapon systems do not formally breach the INF Treaty. In this sense, Russia’s long history of complaints about U.S. long-range unmanned aerial vehicles appears fairly forward-thinking: if the United States were willing to discuss this problem and find a way to update the INF Treaty in order to include or omit some weapon systems, then a similar procedure could be very useful as applied to a number of existing problems.

It should also be noted that both NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have made statements in support of the treaty, even though they have expressed their concern at the way it has been observed by the relevant parties. In addition, NATO has recently been focusing on the task of “restoring compliance” of the INF Treaty, including during the meeting of the NATO–Russia Council held on October 31, 2017.

Mobile and Fixed Cruise Missiles

The United States is unhappy with Russia’s 9M729 (SSC-8) cruise missile [2] on land-based mobile launchers (that are roughly the same as the ones used for the Iskander-M tactical missile system), which were allegedly deployed in two brigades. No open-source evidence has been presented to date (plus, according to certain reports, the United States has supplied differing amounts of data to its allies), but, according to Washington, several tests of the missile may indicate that its range may be in breach of the INF Treaty. If the 9M729 is indeed a “land-based Kalibr,” the balance of the costs and benefits of its deployment is unclear. It is possible that, during one of the testing phases, a mistake or even a series of mistakes were made both by Russian developers and military personnel at the test sites and within the U.S. intelligence community. Still, what is this missile about? [9]

Igor Ivanov:
Road to Nowhere

The 9M729 may indeed be a longer missile, but its range indeed may not exceed 500 kilometres. For example, it might be fitted with a detachable warhead, possibly complete with an extra booster similar to that of the Kalibr anti-ship missile with its supersonic warhead [3], or the Kh-101 aerial-launched cruise missile, which can allegedly engage several targets at once. In this case, the “violating” test may have had to do with the missile’s configuration, which did not perform as planned (the range increased but the speed did not, or the gliding warhead accidentally flew too far), so eventually another design was chosen as part of the same project. The simplest explanation, though, and one that has been voiced repeatedly, is that the tests involved a series of launches of various cruise missile designs developed by Novator Design Bureau for different platforms from the same test launchers as part of a single testing programme.

Russia’s questions on the United States [4] compliance are to do with the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defence system, a version of the of the naval system that utilizes launchers very similar to the universal Mk41 naval launcher (i.e. applicable for strike weapons). The United States insists that there have been no test launches of cruise missiles from Aegis Ashore, since its software is intended solely for missile defence, but no specific measures of trust and transparency have been developed and implemented yet.

In fact, retired Pentagon officials have no qualms about saying the missile defence system may be turned from a defensive weapon (against Iran) into an offensive one (against Russia).

Other Nuclear Powers and the Future of the INF Treaty

Other official nuclear powers could play a positive role in the current crisis. China is a very important component of the equation: on the one hand, it is has the largest number of missile systems, both nuclear and conventional, which may be covered by the INF Treaty definitions; the United States estimates that up to 95 per cent of all China’s missiles are “in violation” of the treaty. On the other hand, China is sure to face the greatest number of threats should the treaty be killed: the United States has long viewed the Chinese factor in the context of discussions on the future of the INF Treaty, and if Russia deploys missiles of sufficient ranges beyond the Urals, they will have to be reckoned with, regardless of how Russia explains their purpose.

The least China could do would be to express its support for the treaty and ensure a certain degree of transparency as applied to its own arsenals. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China has been calling for the preservation of the treaty, but this is clearly not enough now.

The INF Treaty is falling apart at the seams, creating threats to all the arms control regimes in their current form. The crisis could either bury the very principle of arms control or create an environment for a new strategic stability architecture.

France and the United Kingdom are obviously concerned about the possibility of becoming targets for Russia’s restored non-strategic missiles. In the worst-case scenario, if the INF Treaty is cancelled altogether, the current cooperation on the SCALP/Storm Shadow cruise missile could result in the development of new long-range land-based cruise missiles in response to Russia’s efforts, but this is an undesirable scenario. At this point in time, it would be useful for the United Kingdom (highly unlikely) or France (more likely) to initiate a revision of the INF Treaty, or create an environment for the preservation of its most important achievements. For example, the interested parties could work together on the definitions for new weapon systems, or on the geographical self-limitations for the deployment of such systems (even though China may be disappointed with the results of this process), or on certain transparency measures.

In addition, China, France and the United Kingdom could set up an independent expert commission to look into the “violations” committed by the United States and Russia, help the countries better understand each other and propose solutions.

Europe and China are particularly interested in a controlled revision of the treaty to bring it up to date, or in fighting for its legacy, because geography is something that cannot be changed. It is important for Moscow to not alienate the leading nuclear powers now that Washington has already taken the first blow by announcing its intention to disengage from the treaty.

Cause or Effect?

A fairly provocative thought has arisen against the background of discussions about the fate of the INF Treaty.

The signing of the treaty, as well as other nuclear arms reduction agreements, has led to global nuclear arsenals beginning to shrink.

tanaptap1.jpg

There are concerns that, if the treaty is cancelled, this trend may be reversed.

But here is an interesting thought: What if the reduction of nuclear inventories is caused not just by arms control, the end of the Cold War and other circumstances, but also by the development of conventional precision standoff weapons [5], both globally and regionally, which began precisely in the 1980s, primarily in the United States?

So now the Americans quite rightly fear that their aerial and naval conventional superiority may be challenged, as other countries are achieving progress with the development of similar systems. This is why the United States has decided to invest in “old but new” land-based weapons. All the more so as it turns out that, back in 2013, the Pentagon conducted preliminary research to determine the weapons systems it could deploy after withdrawing from the INF Treaty [6].

It should be noted that the INF Treaty does not differentiate between nuclear-tipped and conventional missiles. When it was drafted and signed, medium- and short-range missiles were primarily a threat due to their ability to carry nuclear warheads. Even with a range of several thousand kilometres they would ensure guaranteed destruction of their targets with warheads yielding hundreds of kilotons. Today, such missiles are of interest to current and potential owners as conventional munitions too (in fact, their conventional role is becoming predominant), as part of the concepts of prompt global strike, non-nuclear deterrence and other applications of stand-off precision weapons.

Moving Forward

Malcolm Chalmers, Dmitry Stefanovich:
Is This the End of Nuclear Arms Control?

The INF Treaty may still be rescued, but only if Russia and the United States demonstrate political goodwill. The two countries need to be able to both demonstrate and explain the specifics of their own weapons systems and accept the opponent’s explanations.

The prospects of the New START being prolonged are moot, and the balance may shift either way. In fact, if the INF Treaty is cancelled altogether, there may be fewer obstacles than if both Russia and the United States allegedly violate it. On the other hand, yet another destroyed treaty would evidently result in a reduction in mutual interest and trust in arms control.

Ideally, it would obviously be useful if a new arms control architecture (including a multilateral architecture) or something of the kind could be created. There are reports to the effect that the United States may be prepared to sign an equivalent of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty of 2003 (without any mutual inspections, and with numerous other shortcomings). This would not be the ideal option.

One useful step towards resolving the crisis would be to identify the specific conditions under which Russia could resume the development and deployment of medium- and shorter-range missiles. Such a decision would be particularly logical to be linked with the possibility of the United States and/or NATO deploying medium- and shorter-range offensive weapons in Europe. Other developments that would radically change the balance of forces to the detriment of Russia are also possible. At the same time, linking this specific problem to a broad range of conditions does not appear to be the proper way to go.

Furthermore, it would seem that now is the time to stage a public demonstration, for experts and media, of the 9M729 ground-based cruise missile, and clarify information about its design and capabilities, while not revealing information that could reduce the country’s deterrence and strike potential [7]. This would help Russia strengthen its narrative with regard to the absence of INF Treaty violations on its part, while assuming an active position on preserving the treaty’s achievements.

Last but not least, political goodwill and innovative concepts need to be backed by corresponding communication skills. Against the backdrop of statements made by Donald Trump and his national security advisor John Bolton on the INF Treaty, the “outstanding” speech by United States Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson went somewhat unnoticed. Hutchinson used the term “take out” when speaking about Russian missiles that were allegedly in breach of the INF Treaty. This led some to believe that the United States was prepared to resort to preventive strikes. Of course, subsequent statements explained what she was talking about, but, given the circumstances, Hutchinson’s words sounded provocative in the extreme [8].

The INF Treaty is falling apart at the seams, creating threats to all the arms control regimes in their current form. The crisis could either bury the very principle of arms control or create an environment for a new strategic stability architecture.

1. The English name of the treaty is somewhat misleading because it shifts the focus (perhaps deliberately so) from delivery platforms to warheads.

2. The United States seems to no longer have any problems with Russia’s Rubezh light intercontinental ballistic missile, and the programme seems to have been frozen.

3. In this context, a recent exercise involving Iskander-M missiles, which were used against sea-surface targets, is of special interest.

4. A general review of the current issues is contained in Alexander Yermakov’s article.

5. STANDOFF PRECISION MUNITIONS are potentially hazardous weapons used as part of land, air and naval missile systems which are intended for guaranteed selective destruction of stationary targets situated on land and on islands, and in separate instances of quasi-stationary targets, prior to their exfiltration from their positions at ranges of 400 kilometres and beyond.

6. The following four variants are being proposed:

  • Modifying the existing systems in order to extend their range. The U.S. Army’s only current ballistic missile is the ATACMS, and it will soon get the PRSM with a range formally limited to 499 kilometres. The ATACMS does not have a great deal of potential in terms of modernization, but the new missiles could certainly have their range extended to beyond 500 kilometres.
  • Forward-based ground-launched cruise missiles. The easiest variant would be to develop a ground-based Tomahawk again (known as the Gryphon in the 1980s); the authors (of the website rather than the report, it is to be hoped) openly state that using the Aegis Ashore for this purpose would be the simplest option.
  • Forward-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Everything is clear here, but such missiles have predictable trajectories. And now to the most interesting part:
  • Forward-based ground-launched intermediate-range missiles with trajectory shaping vehicles (TSV): something akin to a gliding vehicle but without hypersonic velocity, conceptually closer to the Iskander-M’s 9M723 quasi-ballistic missile.

7. All the more so as certain information about the missile’s tests had already been shared with the United States.

8. Russia has also made such mistakes: one of its greatest mistakes was the address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018 regarding new delivery platforms for nuclear munitions. There is reason to believe that the main idea of the address was to invite partners to frank and fruitful negotiations on strategic stability, but now, six months on, it appears that most U.S. officials and experts (as well as the American people in general) perceived it as a direct threat.

9. Brief technical analysis and assessment based on the data available can be also seen on MilitaryRussia.


(votes: 3, rating: 5)
 (3 votes)

Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students