I’ve had lots of comments and questions on the INF treaty, especially given my last post on it. I’ve had to wait a week for others to catch up and start reporting what has been obvious to me for a while: that Russia can’t engage in an arms race, and the INF treaty was a (now defunct) way it was keeping America in check.
For those that actually read translated Russian strategic documents (which I do, and if you want a good primer, check out DIA and ONI’s documents), it’s quickly evident that Russia doesn’t see the world as we do. They don’t seek to beat the U.S. or wipe out our country. They want to be treated as a world power, and they view the encroachment of NATO into their “sphere of influence” as a threat. This causes them to push into places like Cuba, Serbia and Venezuela in response.
Russia also doesn’t view nuclear weapons the way we do. We see nuclear weapons as last ditch effort, with a massive strike on each side. Russia sees nuclear weapons as a way to “off ramp” a conflict before it gets too large:
“Moscow fears that the speed, accuracy, and quantity of non-nuclear strategic precision-guided weapons can achieve strategic effects on par with nuclear weapons, one of the primary reasons that since at least 1993 (and most recently codified in the 2014 Military Doctrine) Russia has reserved the right to a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack that threatens the existence of the state. In addition to rejecting no-first-use, Moscow has discussed using nuclear weapons to de-escalate a conflict.” (emphasis mine)
So when Russia threatens the use of nuclear weapons, they don’t see it escalating to ICBMs. Intermediate range nuclear weapons give them an advantage over US and NATO units by launching devastating strikes that would cause us to back off quickly.
President Trump’s withdrawal from the INF treaty is a calculated maneuver to eliminate that advantage. Russia was already cheating, but they can’t afford to get in an arms race. Russian weapons are heavily dependent on imported parts, in many cases from Ukraine, and efforts to make more components in Russia are stalling. The Russian economy, largely dependent on oil, is struggling with inflation and falling oil prices due to US drilling efforts. Conveniently, the US is now pursuing policies to break the OPEC lock on oil production. Those efforts are probably not a coincidence.
Even President Putin sees this:
“…We must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race,” Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Now that the INF treaty is out of the way, President Trump has options. He can pursue his own intermediate range forces, which complicates Russian efforts to strike first in a decisive manner. Even if the US doesn’t use these units, they can be an inexpensive export for former Soviet NATO members to make Russia think twice about crossing the border.
This can also be leverage for any future START treaty negotiation. Again, knowing that Russia loses in a long term arms race, President Trump can negotiate a much better START treaty, and rope in China in the process. If China refuses, Trump can move to allow Japan to produce nuclear weapons as a counter-punch. And if peace finally comes to the Korean peninsula, the US will have a lot of free space and troops that aren’t far from Beijing.
America is now in a much better position to prevent nuclear exchange. With good negotiating, the next year should see a better set of treaties and exchanges that make our world a much safer place.
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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