Author: Senator Ben Cardin
Russia is once again placing Europe in the shadow of a potential nuclear conflict. Last week in testimony before Congress, US military officials confirmed that Russia has taken another step in shredding Europe’s security defenses by covertly deploying a land-based cruise missile capable of targeting the continent with nuclear weapons. Russia’s deployment of this system is in direct violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – and endangers America’s closest allies.
Since World War II, Americans have increasingly come to understand that our security is directly tied to a stable and secure Europe. The greatest threat to Europe’s security today is Russia, which under President Putin’s leadership has been systematically undermining all of the security arrangements that peacefully ended the Cold War.
The cruise missile system Russia has deployed is particularly dangerous and destabilizing. It allows Russia to rapidly target Europe with nuclear forces, providing NATO with almost no warning time to determine if an attack is occurring.
Avoiding this type of situation is exactly why President Reagan and President Gorbachev signed the INF treaty in 1987, which barred the United States and the Soviet Union from fielding nuclear capable ground launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, ending the superpowers’ nuclear confrontation in Europe.
The United States and our European allies face multiple challenges in formulating an effective response to the threat posed by Russia, including its violation of the INF treaty. We need to take defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies from Russian aggression, but we must do so in a manner that maintains the rules based order that bolsters European and ultimately American security. In addition, we should make clear to the international community that Russia is in violation of its treaty obligations, despite its efforts to cover up and deny its nefarious activities.
I believe four principles should guide American action in response to Russia’s violations of the INF treaty.
First, the United States should closely coordinate any response with our European and Pacific allies and partners. Although the INF treaty is effectively a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia, it has a profound impact on our allies’ security. Russia’s new ground based cruise missile is a direct threat to our European allies and potentially our allies in the Pacific.
Second, the United States should not precipitously withdraw from or violate the INF treaty. Some of my colleagues have suggested the United States should immediately begin building an INF range system and punish Russia by withdrawing from other arms control agreements. This would be serious mistake. Maintaining a united front with our allies requires a policy that focuses squarely on Russia’s violations and the threat these violations pose to Europe. Unilateral actions in violation of the treaty could shift blame onto the United States and would cause our NATO allies to question our own commitment to Europe’s security.
Third, the United States must directly confront Russia about this violation. In November, the United States convened the first session since 2003 of the INF treaty dispute mechanism, the Special Verification Commission (SVC). During this meeting, Russia continued to insist it is not in violation of the treaty despite the evidence the United States presented regarding testing.
Russian deployment of the prohibited cruise missile warrants another SVC session. At the meeting, the United States should present our new evidence and declare Russia in material breach of the treaty. In addition, we should consider issuing an ultimatum providing Russia with a deadline when we expect them to return to compliance, detailing that a failure to do so would instigate a series of measures in response that would improve our European deterrence and defense capabilities.
Finally, the United States and NATO should immediately put in place defensive measures to negate as much as possible the threat from Russia’s new ground based cruise missile system until they correct course. The deployment of a ground-based cruise missile provides Russia with a new capability to threaten NATO bases and ports. The United States should consider new missile defense deployments to Europe including overhead sensors specifically designed to detect cruise missiles, additional Patriot missile defense batteries, and Short-Range Air Defense.
Russia’s deployment of these missiles is a serious threat to the United States and our allies. Unfortunately, our preferred solution to this situation – Russia coming back into compliance with the INF treaty – appears increasingly unlikely. Using this as an excuse to abandon all arms control efforts with the Russian Federation is a serious mistake. Instead, we must take decisive action to confront Russia about its treaty violation, while enhancing our defensive security measures so that we can protect our own security and the security of our allies.