Destabilizing Threat

Russian cruise missile violation of arms treaty a ‘serious threat’
Russian President Vladimir Putin / AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin / AP

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OMAHA—A new Russian ground-launched cruise missile is a significant violation of a strategic arms treaty, a senior State Department official said on Thursday.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said during a speech that Moscow’s breach of the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty poses “a serious threat to strategic stability.”

“It is that aspect of a ground-launched cruise missile that is the one about which we have determined is a Russian [treaty] violation,” Gottemoeller said during a U.S. Strategic Command conference on nuclear deterrence.

It was the first time the Obama administration acknowledged publicly the specific missile behind the treaty breach announced late last month.

Gottemoeller said the U.S. government offered to hold high-level talks with Russia with the goal of rectifying the treaty breach at the time Moscow was notified of the violation in formal diplomatic channels.

Russia broke off most bilateral talks with the United States following the imposition of U.S. sanctions for Russia’s military annexation of Crimea’s Ukraine in June.

The Obama administration wants the talks as part of efforts to prevent the collapse of the Cold War-era arms treaty, she said.

“We are asking Russia to return to compliance with the treaty in a verifiable manner,” Gottemoeller said.

U.S. officials said the missile that violated the treaty is Russia’s new R-500 cruise missile that has been in development for several years. Reports from Russia say the missile, also known as the Iskander K cruise missile, could be in the early stages of deployment.

Other violations of the INF treaty have included the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-26, to INF ranges. The treaty prohibits such testing.

A senior administration official said a major calculus by Russia for the new missile was China’s development of INF-range missiles that Moscow sees as a potential threat.

Russia’s government has denied that the new cruise missile development has violated the INF accord.

The State Department’s annual arms compliance report released last month stated that Russia had violated the INF accord, which prohibits deploying missiles with ranges of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.

Gottemoeller said Russia is currently debating its nuclear modernization and whether to jettison the INF treaty. She urged Moscow to come back into compliance.

Russia appears to be complying with the terms of the 2010 New START arms treaty, Gottemoeller said, adding that the U.S. government is continuing to monitor Russia’s New START activities.

Gottemoeller said President Obama is continuing to pursue an additional one-third cut in nuclear warheads beyond New START he announced during a speech in Berlin in June 2013.

However, she acknowledged growing tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine make further arms agreement difficult.

“We will continue to be open to discussions of agreements that will reduce nuclear and other military threats,” she said. “Of course we know that the situation is different than it was four years ago, four months ago, or even four weeks ago. But cooperation in the arms control realm has been an important facet of strategic stability over the past 40 years and should remain so for the future.”

Gottemoeller said the Russian nuclear and missile buildup could prompt a “needless, costly, destabilizing arms race” as occurred during the Cold War.

Gottemoeller also criticized China for conducting an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test last month and said Russia is also developing space warfare weapons capable of knocking out satellites.

“China’s recent irresponsible and provocative ASAT test accentuates the importance of these efforts” to prevent the development of space warfare arms, she said. “Russia’s pursuit of anti-satellite weapons is also a concern.”

Critics in Congress of the administration’s arms control-centered national security policies have said the INF violation was known for years and was kept secret from senators during debate on ratification of the New START treaty.

The belief is that intelligence on the Russian arms cheating was suppressed for political reasons in order to win passage of New START.

Gottemoeller said there are growing concerns that terrorists will acquire nuclear and other devastating weapons.

Last month, Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, introduced legislation directed at Russia for its INF treaty breach.

The legislation would seek to impose penalties for the Russian treaty violation.

Rogers and other congressional leaders pressed the administration to make the declaration of the INF treaty violation.

“Vladimir Putin does not take his obligations seriously, whether they be arms control or respect for the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia,” Rogers said in a statement announcing the legislation

“He doesn’t believe he has anything to fear from President Obama,” he added. “While the president may prefer to lead from behind in the face of Russian aggression, Congress cannot.  We will impose serious consequences for Putin’s threats to our security.”

The Rogers legislation would authorize research and development of U.S. intermediate-range missiles. The bill also would mandate that the Pentagon move ahead with plans for ground-based variants of the Navy SM-3 ship-based missile interceptors in bases in Europe to defend against the new Russian INF missiles.

Other provisions call for imposing harsh economic sanctions on Russia that would limit cooperation with Russia’s civilian nuclear industry.