Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
Lost among the most recent wave of anti-Russian hysteria were the very real US accusations of non-compliance with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty leveled at Russia. Specifically, the US accuses the Russian Federation of deploying or preparing to deploy prohibited land-based cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,000km, presumably land-based versions of the naval Kalibr or air-launched Kh-101 cruise missiles.
In response to the US allegations, the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act provides some $58 million to study possible responses, including the re-deployment of land-based Tomahawks which were also eliminated by the INF Treaty, the development of a new conventional land-based cruise missile, the strengthening of NATO air defenses, and even a possible suspension of the Treaty. There is an ongoing discussion within the US of withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty which permits Russia and the US to perform observation flights over each other’s territory using specially modified aircraft. The relatively authoritative Foreign Policy journal went so far as to run an article claiming, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that Russian Open Skies flights over the United States were used to collect transmissions from intelligence agents on the ground. Who, presumably, have no access to the Internet or any other modern communications device. Even the continuation of the START III treaty dealing with strategic nuclear armaments is being linked by some to the fate of the INF, although these linkages have been removed from the NDAA itself.
Making Reagan Alive Again
All in all, the Trump Administration is sticking to the strategy outlined earlier on the pages of SouthFront, namely attempting to repeat the most recent successful US revival–the Reagan Era which, since it incidentally coincided with the decline and ultimate collapse of USSR, has acquired mythical status in the United States. Reagan’s approach consisted of stepped-up support for a variety of anti-Soviet movements around the world, accusations of arms control treaty cheating, efforts to interfere with the construction of natural gas pipelines linking USSR and EEC, the deployment of “Euromissiles” such as the Pershing II and GLCM that the INF Treaty would ultimately ban, and a number of military operations around the world intended to show the US has overcome its Vietnam War malaise. The domestic components of the Reagan Era were tax cuts and deregulation which, coming on the heels of the stagflation of the 1970s, made eminent sense and were responsible for an upsurge in economic activity, though at the cost of rapidly mounting national debt. At the time, however, the combination of Reagan’s domestic and international successes was sufficient to win him a landslide victory in the 1984 election, the last landslide the US political system has witnessed and a feat Donald Trump would no doubt want to emulate.
At the same time, once economic rejuvenation and military rearmament were, Reagan’s officials showed signs of awareness their strategy was not a sustainable one due to mounting national debt and were quick to enter into negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev over the future of US-USSR relations and the future map of Europe. That the ultimate outcome was tragic for USSR had more to do with internal Soviet politics than with “American meddling.” But one cannot rule out the possibility at least a faction within the Trump Administration does not desire a similar future US-Russia rapprochement, one once again achieved from the “position of strength.” Though it doesn’t appear likely the US can achieve a similar advantage it once had over the Soviet Union in crisis.
The Return of Euromissiles?
The future of the INF Treaty will to a large degree depend on, and also demonstrate the degree to which the European Union is a powerful international actor capable of charting its own security and foreign policies. One of Reagan’s undoubted triumphs was his ability to secure the support of European governments, most notably that of Germany, to host the intermediate-range nuclear delivery vehicles INF would eventually eliminate, in the face of extensive public protest.
That success is unlikely to be repeated. Angela Merkel’s efforts notwithstanding, it is dawning on the German political class that blindly following in US footsteps is a recipe for disaster. Nowhere has US foreign policy led to an outcome that anyone in Germany might find beneficial. Rather to the contrary: the flood of refugees has been quite disruptive of German and European politics. Secondly, German leaders are growing aware of the economic implications of Trump’s America First policies. The tax reform bill which seems destined for passage and which Donald Trump is guaranteed to sign has already raised concerns in the EU for its WTO-violating “double taxation” provisions that are aimed at encouraging major corporations to invest in the US at the expense of Europe. The awareness of the US aim to make Europe dependent on US energy supplies, which to this day is the main motive behind the US coups and attempted coups in Ukraine, Syria, and even Libya, informs German determination to keep North Stream 2 alive.
Germany also has the highest stake in the future of INF. The demise of INF would naturally mean the return of de-facto strategic US nuclear weapons to Germany and a Russian response that would place lots of nuclear cross-hairs all over Germany. The relatively restrained language of the NDAA may have been influenced by Germany’s unwillingness to endorse US accusations at a NATO meeting dedicated to discussing this issue. Therefore, for now at least, the US is unwilling to risk a major breach with Europe which, moreover, just recently launched the PESCO initiative whose aim appears to be as much about making Europe independent of US “security blanket” as it is about “containing Russia.”
Toward a New Security Framework
The oft-repeated accusation that Russia is somehow “destroying the post-Cold War order” fails to acknowledge that order was destroyed with the annihilation of Yugoslavia and the first rounds of NATO eastward expansion, all of which took place under the first US post-Cold War administration of Bill Clinton. These power shifts have undone many of the assumptions inherent in the 1980s-era arms control treaties such as the INF and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). The US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty by the George W. Bush administration also changed the strategic calculus in a way that is unfavorable to Russia.
Technology has not stood still, either. Cruise missiles have become smaller, more precise, and far more ubiquitous. While in the 1980s Tomahawks were carried in cumbersome 4-missile containers bolted to decks of warships, currently every US cruiser and destroyer boasts around 100 Tomahawk-capable Mk41 launch cells, with these ships paying regular “visits” to the Baltic and Black seas. Mk41 launchers are also part of the Aegis Ashore ABM installations in Poland and Romania, which also appears to be a fairly blatant violation of INF. The proliferation of sub-strategic air-launched cruise missiles like the JASSM and its equivalents also places the viability of the current arms control framework into question.
The best outcome that can be expected from the current US round of strategic destabilization is a new set of arms control conferences, this time of trilateral character, with Russia, EU, and US each having a seat at the table, in order to establish not only a new set of rules to govern behavior on the European continent, but also to codify the de-facto transition to a multipolar world order.