If the Trump administration makes the decision to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bans the development and deployment of missiles with ranges between roughly 310 – 3,500 miles, the United States could field new missiles within that range in a matter of months.
That’s due to the insertion of a little-known provision in the 2017 defense budget, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Specifically, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty Preservation Act instructed the Pentagon to begin development of a road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile system with a range that would violate the terms of the INF agreement.
The measure includes a number of reports authored by the State Department dating back to 2014 that found Russia in violation of the Soviet-era treaty.
“It is not in the national security interests of the United States to be unilaterally legally prohibited from developing dual-capable ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, while Russia makes advances in developing and fielding this class of weapon systems, and such unilateral limitation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely,” the measure says.
A Senate aide told the news site that the U.S. doesn’t currently have a missile developed and ready to deploy but thanks to the act can produce one within a matter of months.
President Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the treaty, citing years of Russian violations and also China’s development and deployment of short- to medium-range nuclear missiles (China was not a signatory to the INF Treaty).
Analysis: The fact that Congress passed and the president signed the INF Treaty Preservation Act last year is an indication that the administration has been considering withdrawing from the initial treaty for more than a year.
It’s also an indication that the Trump administration understands the U.S. has been placed at a significant disadvantage after years of previous administrations ignoring the threat and the Russian and Chinese missile build-up.
So, why does the U.S. even need a short-range nuclear missile capability in the first place? Aren’t long-range ICBMs good enough?
No. The treaty also bans conventionally-armed short- and intermediate-range missiles, taking away a key tactical capability from U.S. ground forces especially. A Rand Corp. report in 2016 noted that the U.S. Army, in particular, should begin studying the necessity of Theater Ballistic Missiles (TBMs) so that the service could offer the Pentagon policy options should the White House decide, at some point, to pull out of the treaty.
It appears as though we have arrived at that point. Now, what kinds of systems the U.S. has under development remain to be seen, but suffice to say if they can be ready in a matter of months, we’ll soon know.
Meantime, those who are concerned about ‘Russian retaliation’ are missing or ignoring two key points.
First, Russia has already developed and deployed intermediate-range systems, as the State Department determined four years ago.
Secondly, Russia is in no position, financially, to ramp up military spending to counter any U.S. moves.
“They really can’t afford to do much more than they are doing now,” Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon policymaker who specialized in nuclear weapons, told the Free Beacon. He said Moscow wouldn’t offer much more than a verbal response to the U.S. decision.
“At any given time Russia is spending about as much as they can for defense, with first priority to nuclear systems. The sanctions are seriously hurting them, as are the costs of the war in Eastern Ukraine and Syria,” he said.
“They have already made threats to respond, but I doubt we will see any significant change in their programs. Arms control has essentially no impact on their decisions—it’s compliance to the extent convenient.”