“Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement so we're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out," President Trump told reporters
Saturday, after a rally in Nevada.
He was referring to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed at the 1987 Washington Summit. It banned U.S. and Soviet land-based short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles. And the Russians have been violating its terms for years.
The president’s statement came as National Security Advisor John Bolton was heading to Moscow, hopefully with plans to modify the arms control agenda of several past administrations — especially given Russia’s violations with little or no U.S. response. He has well-known longstanding views on these issues, especially related to INF and the follow-on Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), the New START Treaty.
Consider some recent history.
Russia saw the Obama administration’s efforts to keep information on Russia’s INF Treaty violations from Congress for years, including during its drive to obtain Senate advice and consent to its New START Treaty. The Obama administration did not raise this verification issue with Russia in fora created for that purpose. Nor did they brief our NATO allies while seeking support for additional drawdowns in allied capabilities.
The first public administration admission that there was a violation came in 2014, some five years after the administration knew of the violation. Given the Obama administration’s insipid response, Russia’s disregard for compliance with their obligations, not surprisingly, grew. As stated in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review:
“In this regard, Russia continues to violate a series of arms control treaties and commitments, the most significant being the INF Treaty. In a broader context, Russia is either rejecting or avoiding its obligations and commitments under numerous agreements, including the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the Budapest Memorandum, the Helsinki Accords, and the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives. In addition, Russia has violated the Open Skies Treaty and is selectively implementing the politically binding Vienna Document to avoid transparency of its major military exercises. Russia has also rebuffed U.S. efforts to follow New START with another round of negotiated reductions, and to pursue reductions in non-strategic nuclear forces.”
Not only is Russia blatantly violating the INF Treaty, but China is building INF missiles, and as former Commander of our Pacific Command and now our Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has stated, “We have no ground-based capability that can threaten China because of, among other things, our rigid adherence, and rightly so, to the . . . INF Treaty.”
John Bolton shares the view stated by President Ronald Reagan on multiple occasions: “…there can be no real arms control without compliance. To be serious about arms control is to be serious about compliance.”
President Reagan set forth three actions in response to Soviet violations:
- He sought to modernize U.S. conventional and strategic nuclear forces.
- He created the Arms Control Verification Committee, as he stated in NSDD 121, “to ensure that these Soviet activities and their implications receive highest-level consideration within the U.S. Government.”
- In NSDD 85 and NSDD 119, he directed the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). He said: “I believe that an effort must also be made to identify alternative means of deterring nuclear war and protecting our national security interests. In particular, the U.S. should investigate the feasibility of eventually shifting toward reliance upon a defensive concept. Future deterrence should, if possible, be underwritten by a capability to defeat a hostile attack.”
President Trump is on the path to build upon and enhance the Reagan administration efforts. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty is important not only because it sends the message that the United States will not unilaterally comply while Russia engages in gross violations, and that it will respond to other regional threats. Such withdrawal is explicitly provided for in Article XV of the INF Treaty, and is consistent with international law.
U.S. responses should also deny violators the goal of their violations; strengthen U.S. deterrence forces; ensure on-going high level attention to the problem; be supported by defenses to enable the U.S. to protect the American people and our allies and friends if deterrence fails. A new Arms Control Verification Committee should be established and co-chaired by the Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance to review continuously these important efforts and ensure that they are considered at the very highest levels of the U.S. Government.
Finally, a lesson from the past: President Reagan’s force modernization and SDI efforts gave his negotiators significant negotiating leverage, and the arms control bureaucracy too often sought to use them as bargaining chips to be traded for promises of better Soviet behavior. Like Reagan, President Trump must avoid this trap, which no doubt continues among those seeking bargaining chips to obtain commitments by Russia, China, and others to stop their provocative build-ups.
Moreover, standing firm can also bring success. For example, President Trump’s Space Force initiative can provide substantial negotiating leverage, but like Reagan at Reykjavik, his negotiators must not trade it away.
Indeed, it is needed to counter Russia’s large ballistic missiles that carry multiple warheads and the near-term hypersonic threat posed by Russia and China. The nearest term hypersonic threat is likely to be launched as a payload on rockets that then is deployed high in the atmosphere as a maneuvering vehicle to evade our ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems.
To counter these existing and near term threats, we should build space-based interceptors (SBIs) as soon as possible to intercept these missiles launched from any place on earth during their boost phase, while their rockets are burning brightly and before they can release their payloads. We have known how to do this since the 1980s.
Such capability will show Russia, China, and others to have wasted resources in deploying ballistic missiles that carry many warheads because they become attractive targets for our defenses and support a return to pre-New START more stabilizing conditions. And it will illustrate an early cost-effective counter to Putin’s boasts of achieving hypersonic capability that would defeat our current BMD systems.
Hopefully, National Security Advisor Bolton will set the stage for such developments, while producing truly verifiable agreements responsive to today’s problems.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
Paula A. DeSutter served as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation during the George W. Bush administration. Her entire career has been focused on treaty verification and related national security and intelligence matters, including as a Professional Staff Member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). She held numerous positions in the Verification and Intelligence Bureau in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and as a National Defense University Senior Visiting Research Fellow at its Center for Counter-Proliferation Research. Ms. DeSutter holds a Master of Arts in International Relations, a Master of Science degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College, a Master of Arts in Economics, and a B.A. in Political Science. Her work at the National War College earned her the President’s Strategic Vision Award for Excellence in Research and Writing, and she was a Distinguished Graduate.
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