On Friday the United States announced suspension of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. A simple Google search would make you believe the sky is falling and soon to be littered with nuclear weapons. I couldn’t find a single positive article about the withdrawal. But all is not lost. Let’s get some basic facts.
The INF Treaty is old
The INF Treaty was signed in 1987. It eliminated intermediate range (300-3,400 mile) ground based weapons that could carry nuclear weapons. At the time, the intention was to eliminate a class of weapons that were hard to target and could cause an arms race. The treaty was successful in eliminating over 2,000 weapons, over 2/3rds on the Russian side. But things have changed since then.
The INF Treaty is out of date
The INF Treaty matters very little now because it has essentially been overcome by technology. Most importantly, the Russian government has developed hyper sonic glide vehicles (HGVs) that are likely capable of carrying nuclear weapons. HGVs don’t have a ballistic trajectory and are maneuverable, aspects that make them not subject to the INF treaty.
A second problem with the INF treaty is countries outside Russia. Russia and India developed the BrahMos missile system. Joint development of a system isn’t captured by the INF treaty. Additionally, non-signatories like China can develop whatever capabilities they want with no restrictions.
Add to this that Russia has been cheating on the treaty, likely since 2007, and the INF Treaty appears to be all negative for the United States, and helpful to Russia, who continues to violate it.
What happens next?
Russia will get 6 months to comply with the treaty. At that point, the treaty is null and void. This means that the United States would be free to develop intermediate range ground weapons. For example, the U.S. could place the Tomahawk missile system in a ground launcher.
What should President Trump do?
Russia has been significantly hurt by sanctions and embargoes. NATO members, meanwhile, need some reassurance about their safety. If the United States began selling ground-based nuclear-capable launchers to NATO countries, it would be a disaster for Russia. The Russian economy would struggle against a concerted, European response.
If I was President Trump, I’d go for the jugular. Sell ground based launchers to NATO nations. Make Russia have to raise the bar, which it can’t do, against NATO. Let Russia suffer and fail. Russia’s economy is suffering, so now is the time to apply economic pressure and get whatever your end state is.
Withdrawing from the INF treaty is not gloom and doom. Instead, it represents a change, from accepting Russia interference to taking a more active role concerning Russia’s future.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.
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