Tom Cotton, a Republican, represents Arkansas in the U.S. Senate.
Gen. Paul Selva recently became the first Pentagon official to state publicly that Russia has deployed a land-based cruise missile in direct violation of its treaty obligations to the United States. Selva, who serves as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee: “We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO.” He also noted — to the best of his knowledge — that “they do not intend to return to compliance.”
In other words, the Russians have calculated that it costs them more to fulfill their treaty commitments than to break them. The only proper response to this provocation is to increase the costs and change Russia’s calculation.
The agreement in question is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the Soviet Union and the United States signed in 1987 to eliminate an entire class of land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Reasons for the treaty date back to the late 1970s, when the Soviet Union deployed intermediate-range nuclear missiles to Europe, reducing warning times and threatening to divide Europe from North America. NATO responded by deploying U.S. intermediate-range nuclear missiles in 1983. The increased tensions ultimately led to arms-control negotiations and the landmark INF Treaty.
From Vladimir Putin’s perspective, the treaty is a one-sided deal. Since only the United States and Russia are parties to the treaty, Russia’s neighbors may develop intermediate-range forces. For that reason, the Kremlin sees itself as surrounded by hostile countries. Moreover, land-based cruise missiles simply don’t pose the same threat to the United States — guarded as it is by two oceans.
As a result, Putin’s government has been subverting the treaty for eight years. By some accounts, Russia started testing a new cruise missile that could strike Western Europe as early as 2008, thus violating the treaty. The Obama administration repeatedly warned the Kremlin to cease and desist. The State Department formally declared Russia in violation of the treaty in 2014 — and every year thereafter. But all of America’s protests were treated as so much hot air — just another meaningless “red line.”
As long as the United States refuses to back up its words with actions, violating the treaty is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for Russia. The missile deployment not only sows divisions between the United States and its allies, but also yields no consequences. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation with a group of senators that would direct the Pentagon to take four measures until Russia lives up to its obligations.
First, the bill would invest $100 million in developing a new intermediate-range cruise missile. Under the treaty, the United States can’t test, produce or possess this kind of missile, but it can conduct research on possible improvements to other missiles, such as extending their range or adapting them for different environments. For instance, the United States could develop a land-based version of the Tomahawk missile, which is usually launched from Navy ships or submarines. This kind of research would keep us in compliance — for now — but also prepare us in case the treaty becomes obsolete.
Second, the bill would provide $500 million in funding for new defense capabilities that could neutralize whatever advantage Russia gains by violating the treaty. For instance, we could continue and accelerate the deployment of sea- and land-based missile-defense sites. A new Russian cruise missile becomes much less valuable if the United States and its allies can easily shoot it down.
Third, the bill would direct the Pentagon to facilitate the transfer of cruise missiles among our allies. Even if the United States cannot keep these kinds of weapons itself, it can arrange business deals among our allies who can. The Polish government has been acquiring air-launched cruise missiles for some time; perhaps if we helped add intermediate-range ground-launched missiles to their arsenal, Russia might think twice about its reckless strategy.
Finally, the bill curtails funding for two treaties that Russia wants to preserve. The first is a possible extension of the New START Treaty, which limits each country’s strategic nuclear forces (such as longer-range, intercontinental systems). The second is the Open Skies Treaty, which allows Russia to conduct aerial surveillance over the United States (and vice versa). If the Russians won’t keep their INF commitments — which benefit us — why should the United States continue other treaties that benefit them?
Russia’s new cruise missile is an incredibly dangerous threat to the United States and our allies. Unless we act now, Russia will only continue its campaign of aggression. Congress should heed Selva’s warning and make Russia pay for its actions. Only by increasing the costs of defying our country will we bring the geopolitical scales back to balance.
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