ER Editor: On August 2nd, the US withdrew from the INF Treaty. As a reminder:
The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (later Russia) banned all of the two countries’ land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and missile launchers with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310-3,420 mi). All SS-20 and Pershing II missiles were withdrawn and destroyed. A nuclear war in Europe became less likely.
For background see also Tim Korso’s Historic Russian-US Nuclear Accord Terminated. And this piece by Korso titled German MPs Wary of Possible Deployment of New US Missiles in Light of INF Withdrawal. Of note:
Member of German Bundestag for the Left Party Andrej Hunko has expressed concern over the collapse of the INF treaty, saying that it may lead to a new arms race and the deployment of new American nuclear missiles on German territory.
The US and NATO previously assured that American nuclear weapons wouldn’t be deployed in Europe after the INF collapse, but Hunko pointed out that Washington still hasn’t removed the ones that it has in Germany, despite Berlin’s request that the US do so.
“The Büchel Air Base still has US nukes deployed, despite longstanding attempts to reach an agreement on their withdrawal. [There is] great concern that new missiles could be deployed there now and we must prevent it at any cost”, the German lawmaker said.
For an in-depth look at the range of treaties between the US and Russia that have been variously signed and broken, we recommend this recent piece from Moon of Alabama titled Why The End Of The INF Treaty Will Not Start A New Arms Race.
US to Test Non-INF Compliant Missile Set to Counter Russia in Europe in Coming Weeks – Report
The two states have long been accusing each other of violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, with the US claiming that Russia has developed banned missiles, and Moscow pointing at Washington’s use of drones and deployment of Tomahawk-capable launchers in Europe.
The US has been developing a new cruise missile with a conventional non-nuclear payload that operates in ranges previously banned by the INF Treaty, and is planning to test it in the coming weeks, a senior anonymous defence official told CNN. According to the source, the new missile will be the “Trump administration’s answer to Russia’s years-long” alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty and is expected to help Washington counter Moscow in Europe.
The missile will be used with a mobile launch system, which is in the initial stages of development, according to the anonymous official. The source noted though that so far there have been no formal programmes for the new armament’s development, since the INF was still in force.
This can now emerge since the US announced its official withdrawal from the INF on 2 August, but the programme will depend on the upcoming test’s results. The missile’s fate is also dependent upon funding, which hasn’t been secured yet due to opposition to it, coming from some Democrats in Congress.
Although the US sees the new cruise missile as a mean to counter Russia in Europe, it hasn’t discussed its deployment with governments in the region, the source said. According to the anonymous official, Washington wishes to set up the new weapon in spots from which it could surpass Russian air defence systems and hit “the country’s ports, military bases or critical infrastructure”.
However, so far no European state has expressed a readiness to host the missiles, although the US earlier announced such plans. Both the US and NATO stated that they would refrain from deploying nuclear missiles in Europe though. Moscow has, notably, warned that such deployments will automatically lead to Russia targeting the US launch sites, threatening the country hosting the weapons.
The plans to deploy the new US missiles to Europe were announced by Washington in light of a February 2019 warning that the country would withdraw from the INF Treaty, which limited the development and production of ground-based rockets with ranges between 500 and 550 kilometres. Washington justified the decision, which became effective on 2 August 2019, by claiming that Russia had violated the accord by developing the 9M729 missile.
Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusations, provided the US and other countries with information about it, proving its compliance with the INF, but Washington turned a blind eye to it and insisted on the missile’s destruction. In light of the US move, Russia announced a mirror response and suspended its obligations under the INF in July 2019, blaming Washington for dooming the vital arms control treaty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin noted in light of the events that Russia also has long had questions about the US’s compliance with the INF Treaty and, despite receiving no concrete answers, continued the dialogue with Washington. Namely, Russia was worried about the deployment of MK41 Aegis Ashore launchers in Europe, which are essentially a ground version of the ship-based Aegis Shield launcher capable of launching Tomahawk missiles, operating within INF ranges.
ER: About Russia’s concern over the deployment of the Aegis Ashore launchers, Moon of Alabama has this to say:
But in 2009 President Obama canceled the deployment (of ABM systems in Europe) and came up with a more devilish plan. The AEGIS system used on many U.S. war ships would be converted into a land based version and deployed in an alleged ABM role. AEGIS consist of radar, a battle management system and canister missiles launchers. The big issue is that these canisters can contain very different types of missiles. While the Standard Missile-2 or 3 can be launched from those canisters in an ABM role, the very same canisters can also hold nuclear armed cruise missiles with a range of 2,400 kilometers.
Russia had no means to detect which type of missiles the U.S. would deploy on these sites. It had to assume that nuclear intermediate range nuclear missiles would be in those canisters. In 2016 the U.S. activated the first of these AEGIS ashore systems in Romania. It was that step that broke the INF treaty.
Thus we can see Russia had cause for concern.
Another point of concern for Moscow was the use of medium-range target missiles by the US, which could potentially be converted into regular ones. Russia also had questions about American drones, which are essentially ground-launched “weapon-delivery vehicles”, a term used in the treaty’s text to describe a missile, capable of landing strikes well within the INF ranges.
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