How Trump is protecting Europe from Russian nukes

How Trump is protecting Europe from Russian nukes

The Trump administration may not have many diplomatic wins to speak of but it should get credit for its moves on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The INF treaty, signed by Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan 30 years ago, banned ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of 500-5000 kilometers. The title INF treaty because the treaty banned all intermediate-range weapons.

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Upon taking office, the Obama administration began to harbor suspicions that Moscow was cheating on this treaty as it now customarily does on arms control agreements. The administration did not go public until 2014, did not specifically list the weapon in question, and failed to retaliate or persuade major European allies who are the targets of these Russian weapons.

 

As a result, the issue of stationing new weapons under U.S. command in Europe as part of NATO’s arsenal remained moot, while allied doubts about U.S. policy and intelligence, and Russian impunity all continued.

That is no longer the case. On Nov. 29, Christopher Ford of the National Security Council publicly identified the weapon that violates the treaty as the Novator 9M729. Congress also assisted the Trump administration by authorizing funding for new weapons to be deployed in Europe, essentially mandating the administration to tell Moscow that we would develop and deploy a new nuclear GLCM or intermediate range ballistic missile in Europe to target Russia and walk out of the treaty if it did not reverse course.

Armed with this legislation, the administration announced that it was beginning research on such a weapon as permitted under the treaty. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at the same time brought the evidence to NATO and demanded that it support U.S. efforts to engage Russia on the treaty and continue this research. Last week NATO essentially agreed to U.S. demands. This process must be reckoned as a victory for the Trump administration and a step forward for European security.

Predictably Russia refuses to admit its chicanery and typically has launched its own spurious charges against the U.S. that it has violated the treaty. But at the same time, and equally predictably, it has also publicly called for new negotiations with the U.S. Thus this episode shows is that past experience continues to illuminate policy.

Whenever Moscow has violated arms control agreements in the past, the only way to get it to desist and take down the offending weapons system was to show it that the alliance was united and was building new weapons to counter its threats. Once again that is the case. Therefore this experience vindicates those who have long demanded that Washington undertake such a response and show the leadership displayed here.

Whether the response should take the form of a new intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile or nuclear weapon or some other response is still to be decided as we have only begun to research potential new weapons. Inevitably, setting up a production line for such weapons and the requisite supporting infrastructure entails serious outlays at a time when budgets are strained and developing a weapons would take time.

While the research continues, other options are also possible. For example, former Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer suggested deploying air and sea launched conventional cruise missiles to Europe to save money, show resolve to Moscow, and also avoid a long debate over nuclear weapons in Europe with NATO. That is one option among many. Undoubtedly, other options like the new weapon now being researched is another and there are probably still other ones that could be generated.

It does appear clear that the only way to consolidate NATO and the administration’s victory here is actually to deploy a weapon that threatens Russia in ways that it cannot answer, force a retraction of the violation, and obtain a return to compliance.

Finally, there is no alternative to a debate among NATO members as to the nuclear defense of Europe by nuclear deterrence in the region. Russia has abundantly shown its intention to threaten if not use such weapons in Europe, this debate, which the U.S. must lead, is unavoidable. It might be a bruising debate since few members are even now willing to admit that Russia is essentially at war with Europe. But on the heels of this victory, strengthening NATO capabilities to threaten Russia will have a salutary effect on Moscow and on European and global security.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the author of numerous foreign policy-related articles, white papers and monographs, specifically focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.