Pentagon Considering Deployment of Nuclear Missiles in Europe

Option considered in response to Russian INF treaty breach

hunger strike
Russian President Vladimir Putin / AP
December 11, 2014

The Pentagon is considering the re-deployment of nuclear cruise missiles in Europe in response to a new Russian cruise missile that the United States has charged violates a 1987 nuclear treaty, a senior Pentagon official told Congress on Wednesday.

Brian P. McKeon, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said U.S. cruise missile deployments are among a range of options being considered if Russia fails to return to compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

McKeon did not provide details of the military options being studied but said they ranged from "reactive defense, to counterforce, to counter value defense measures."

"We don’t have ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe now obviously because they’re prohibited by the treaty," McKeon said. "But that would obviously be one option to explore."

The testimony came during a joint hearing on Russian treaty violations. The hearing brought together members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, and the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade.

The Air Force deployed nuclear-tipped BGM-109G ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe beginning in 1983 and removed and destroyed all but a handful by 1992 under the terms of the INF treaty. Six remaining missiles are preserved as museum pieces.

McKeon’s comments were the most explicit to date by the Obama administration on possible responses to the Russian treaty cheating. The Russian INF violation was formally disclosed by the State Department in an annual arms compliance report in July, noting development of a new ground-launched cruise missile banned under the terms of the accord.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the congressional hearing that the United States has no plans to pull out of the INF treaty, and is continuing to press Moscow to return to compliance.

"Our view is that it is in the security interest the security interest of the United States and our allies and partners to remain in the INF treaty and to work to bring Russia back in to full compliance."

However, Gottemoeller testified that Russia in several meetings and exchanges, has denied the U.S. claims of a treaty violation as a result of what U.S. officials say is development and testing of a new nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,000 kilometers.

The INF treaty bans all ballistic and cruise missiles having those ranges.

Gottemoeller said President Obama has written a letter to Russian President Putin about the arms violation, and other senior administration officials including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have pressed Russian counterparts on the issue.

Gottemoeller would not say how long the United States will wait before taking action in response to the violation, which Dempsey has said is militarily significant.

The State Department undersecretary said current U.S. options include "declaring countermeasures" such as missile defenses, along with what she termed a "three-pronged approach" involving diplomacy, possible economic sanctions and future military countermeasures.

Rep. Ted Poe (R., Texas), the nonproliferation subcommittee chair, said classified information he has seen on Russian arms violations was "alarming."

Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), the strategic forces subcommittee chairman, said he is concerned by the administration’s failure to respond to Russian cheating.

"I want to be clear: if the administration seriously responds to Russia’s violations of this treaty (and other treaties) it will have my support," Rogers said. "If not, however, that failure will not stop my subcommittee from making the investments and policy changes needed concerning our missile defenses, nuclear forces, and space capabilities to defend our interests and send Putin and our allies very clear messages."

Gottemoeller came under harsh questioning from committee Republicans who asserted that Russia is violating seven other treaties and agreements in addition to the INF treaty.

Those treaties and agreements that several members said Russia appears to be violating include the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the New START arms treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, the moratorium on nuclear testing, the Vienna Document on confidence building measures, the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.

The 1994 Budapest accord outlined an agreement under which newly independent Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arms in exchange for assurances that Russia would not use or threaten force against the country

Moscow militarily annexed Ukraine’s Crimea last spring.

Both McKeon and Gottemoeller told the hearing that they are concerned by reports Russia plans to deploy nuclear weapons and strategic delivery system in Crimea.

Asked if Russia is deploying nuclear arms in Crimea, Gottemoeller said: "Sir, I don’t know. But we are very, very alert to statements that have been made by certain experts on the Russian side about deploying dual-capable aircraft, such as the Backfire [bomber] and missile systems that would also be dual-capable."

"We have spoken to the Russians about this and expressed our concerns about any option of re-introducing nuclear weapons into Crimea," she said.

McKeon said the Pentagon is watching Russian forces "closely" based on reports that nuclear weapons will be deployed in occupied Crimea.

No nuclear weapons have been seen being moved into Crimea, he said.

The Free Beacon first disclosed Oct. 10 that members of Congress have expressed concerns that Russia is moving tactical nuclear arms into Crimea.

Russian state media has reported that Putin in August approved the deployment of short-range Iskander M nuclear missiles and Tu-22 nuclear capable bombers in the southern Ukraine enclave.

Gottemoeller was asked if the Obama administration plans to undertake unilateral nuclear arms cuts in the final two years of President Obama’s term in office. She said because of concerns about Russian aggression in Ukraine and the INF violation that "I’m happy to tell you that such unilateral reductions are not on the table."