The House Armed Services Committee approved legislation last week that would require the Pentagon to deploy new weapons in two years to counter Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
The fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill considered by the committee last week contains language that directs the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to evaluate and develop new U.S. and allied weapons in response to Russia’s failure to explain its new intermediate-range cruise missile.
The legislation, contained in the $604.2 billion authorization bill, states that the U.S. government has been negotiating with Russia since 2013 on the violation and to date “the Russian Federation has failed to respond to these efforts in any meaningful way.”
“For years, we’ve been urging the Obama administration to get serious about Russia’s violation of the INF treaty,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee on strategic forces.
“Its response: we’re talking to Russia,” said Rogers, who sponsored the provision. “While Obama talks, Putin cheats on treaties and invades his neighbors. We must take Russia’s actions seriously, and this authorization of DOD funding does just that. The United States will not be unilaterally bound by any treaty.”
Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO commander, said the Russian INF violation “can’t go unanswered.”
“We need to first and foremost signal that we cannot accept this change and that, if this change is continued, that we will have to change the cost calculus for Russia in order to help them to find their way to a less bellicose position,” Breedlove said. His remarks, made in April 2014, were quoted in the bill.
Additionally, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that the United States must make clear to Russia that there will be political, diplomatic, and “potentially military costs” for the treaty violation. “It concerns me greatly,” Dempsey has said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated during his Senate nomination hearing in February that options were being studied. He warned Russia that treaty limits were a “two-way street” and suggested the U.S. military could build missiles that it agreed not to build under the 1987 accord.
The bill would require the president to submit formal notification to Congress within 30 days on Russia’s testing and deployment of missiles that violate the treaty and on whether Moscow has begun to take steps for full compliance and verification to correct any violations.
If Russia fails to return to full compliance, with inspections and verification, the Pentagon should begin preparing “military response options,” the legislation states.
The options include “counterforce” capabilities that could prevent intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic and cruise missile attacks, including weapons acquired from allies.
Additionally, Congress wants the Pentagon to begin developing unspecified “counterforce capabilities” and “countervailing strike capabilities”—presumably similar or asymmetric nuclear strike capabilities “to enhance the armed forces of the United States or allies of the United States.”
The legislation authorizes using funds for research, development, testing, and evaluation, noting that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs can prioritize those weapons that will be fielded within two years.
The INF treaty bans ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 miles and 3,417 miles. The United States eliminated all its Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Russian officials have said the INF treaty has constrained their defenses and noted concerns about the large buildup of Chinese INF-range ballistic and cruise missiles as one reason for Moscow apparently jettisoning the INF accord.
The Obama administration has sought to play down the INF violation, first disclosed formally last year in a State Department arms compliance report.
Russia’s INF missile banned under the accord has been identified in published reports as the Iskander M ground-launched cruise missile. The missile, also known as the R-500, is a cruise missile variant of the Iskander short-range ballistic missile.
Moscow has denied violating the treaty and countered U.S. charges by claiming the United States has violated the treaty through a target missile and drone – both of which are not covered by the treaty. The U.S. has denied Moscow’s counter charges.
Critics on Capitol Hill, however, said State Department arms control officials, led by Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, have sought to play down or ignore the INF violation in order to try to preserve the arms control agenda with Moscow.
Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the congressional hearing in December that there were no plans to withdraw from the INF and that efforts were being undertaken to bring Russia back into compliance.
The House bill will need to be reconciled with a Senate version in the coming months. Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R., Ariz.) said during a hearing March 19 that the new INF weapon is a “a nuclear ground-launched cruise missile.”
In March, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that one option for the United States would be to deploy a ground-launched cruise missile in Europe and that such a deployment would require withdrawing from INF.
“What we are looking at in terms of options, countermeasures, some of which are compliant with the treaty, some of which would not be,” he said.
The options ranged from bolstering defenses of NATO and U.S. sites in Europe, preventive measures and then “countervailing strike capabilities to go after other Russian targets.”
Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon arms control official, said the legislation is very useful.
“There must be a congressional push for a response to Russian violation of the INF Treaty or there won’t be any,” he said.
“While I believe that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is sincere when he talked about the need for a U.S. response, I do not believe that this is the case within the Department of State arms control bureau.”
Schneider stated that in addition to the illegal cruise missile, Russia cheating is much broader.
“In particular, there has been a recent development on the issue of whether Russian ABM systems and surface-to-air missiles have the prohibited capability to attack ground targets with nuclear warheads at INF range,” he said.
For example, Russian military analysts have reported that Russia’s S-300 anti-missile system has a ground attack capability close to INF range.
“With the Russian sale of the S-300 to Iran, this issue takes on greater significance,” Schneider said.
David S. Sullivan, a former Senate arms control specialist and former CIA analyst who first exposed Moscow’s cheating on the SALT arms treaty in the 1970s, said effective arms control treaties require effective verification and compliance.
"Violators must pay a price,” Sullivan said. "The Reagan defense build-up was the price the U.S. paid to deal with Soviet arms control cheating, and it ultimately caused the Soviets to bankrupt themselves in response.”
The U.S. response today to several confirmed INF treaty violations should also be programmatic, Sullivan said, including deployment of "offsetting cruise missile deployment to NATO and more strategic missile defenses.”
"Neither would cost very much, but they would be effective bolsters to deterrence,” he said.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the legislation. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
According to the bill, other treaties that Russia appears to be violating include the Open Skies Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Vienna Document, the Budapest Memorandum, the Istanbul Commitments, the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Moscow also recently withdrew from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, raising new doubts about its arms control commitments.
Other Russia-related provisions of the bill call on the Pentagon to notify Congress of Russian transfers or sales of Club-K cruise missiles, weapons disguised in launchers that appear to be shipping containers. The military also would be required to develop a strategy to defeat the Club-K.
Another measure calls for the Pentagon to provide quarterly notifications to Congress of Russian preparations for deploying nuclear weapons in militarily occupied Crimea.
Congressional notification of any U.S. approval of Russia’s plan to upgrade intelligence-gathering aircraft under the Open Skies Treaty is included in the bill.