More than two years after the State Department confronted Russia about a violation of the INF nuclear missile treaty, the Obama administration has not taken steps to counter the treaty breach.
New details of the violation of provisions of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty were disclosed in the State Department’s latest annual report on arms treaty compliance.
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The latest report, made public last week, also reveals that the Obama administration misled the public about the INF treaty breach by not publicly disclosing the violation.
The compliance report states Moscow "continued to be in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty."
The treaty breach involves development of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile that the administration has not identified. The violation was first disclosed a year ago in the 2014 arms compliance report, although it had been discussed in secret reports and in Congress for several years.
This year’s report states that Moscow was challenged on the violation in 2013 and has so far refused to return to compliance. The report also said the violation was mentioned in earlier secret versions of the report, indicating the violation may have been known more than two years ago.
Former Pentagon strategic policymaker Mark Schneider said the fact that the violation was discussed secretly suggests that the administration misled the public about the matter in its public statements.
"For three years, their public statements on Russian INF compliance were deceptive," Schneider said. "They appeared to deny Russian INF violations when they now say they knew what was going on, and talked about it in classified reports to the Congress. There is no possible justification for denying the America people this information."
Earlier compliance reports also falsely denied Russian noncompliance with INF. From 2011 to 2013 the State Department said that U.S. and Russian officials had held meetings and "there were no issues raised during this reporting period."
Administration arms control officials, including Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the department’s senior arms control official, have said they are attempting to bring Russia back into compliance with the accord.
But the latest arms report reveals that Russia, instead of acknowledging its treaty breach, has instead accused the United States of violating the INF treaty violations.
Specifically Moscow has accused the United States of fielding a ground-based missile defense interceptor called Aegis Ashore, as well as armed drones Russia contends are not INF compliant. The State report said both systems are not covered by the INF treaty and thus are not violations.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the administration for failing to respond to the treaty breach.
"After two years of diplomatic effort, Russia has failed to come back into compliance with the INF treaty, and the White House has failed to take any real action to defend America’s interests," Thornberry said.
"There should be no doubt that this is a serious issue," he added. "Russia’s development of intermediate-range nuclear platforms is designed to hold our interests at risk and enable Putin’s expansionist policies. It is not a situation we should accommodate for two years running."
Thornberry said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has proposed several military options to deal with the violation that President Obama should implement immediately.
The options mentioned in the past by defense officials include increasing missile defenses, developing specific countermeasures to the new Russian cruise missile, and deploying new U.S. nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
The Russian missile in question has been identified in state-controlled press reports as a cruise missile identified variously as the R-500, the R-500 extended range, and the Kalibr, a ground-launched version of the SS-N-27 anti-ship cruise missile.
The treaty bans holding, producing, or flight testing ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 miles and 3,418 miles.
The latest report outlines the legal basis for the INF violation by citing specific articles and paragraphs of the treaty prohibiting signatories from possessing intermediate-range missiles or launchers and prohibiting flight-testing of the systems.
From the citations, it appears that the Russians have conducted flight tests of the new cruise missile and that it may be deployed. The legal assessment also indicates the treaty determines an illegal missile’s maximum range as its flying distance until fuel runs out.
"In 2013 and 2014, the United States raised these concerns with the Russian Federation on repeated occasions in an effort to resolve U.S. concerns," the report said. "The United States will continue to pursue resolution of U.S. concerns with Russia."
Thornberry added: "As Russia cheats on her commitment to the international community, it is hard not to consider the implications for the ongoing pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. If Iran were to cheat—as many suspect they will—would the Administration show a similar faint resolve? There is little evidence that this White House would approach Iran with stiffer resolve than they have shown with Russia."
A State Department official said the administration is continuing to urge Russia to return to compliance.
"The Russian system is a state-of-the-art ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that Russia has tested at ranges capable of threatening most of European continent," the official said.
"We are also consulting with allies and reviewing a range of appropriate options—diplomatic, economic, and military—to respond to Russia’s continuing violation of its treaty obligations," the official said.
"It is important to understand that there have been no decisions regarding military responses to the Russian violation."
The official said the administration believes the INF treaty remains in force and benefits U.S. and allied security.
"We have reminded Russia of this and have pressed Russia repeatedly to engage constructively and return to compliance," he said. "We do not want a repeat of the escalatory cycle of action and reaction that marked much of the Cold War."
The official said Moscow has refused to acknowledge the missile or discuss returning to compliance at the same time that the Russians are "making progress towards operational deployment."
"Russia should know that our patience is not unlimited," the official said.
The current defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2016 includes several provisions aimed at forcing the administration to counter the Russian treaty violation.
They include making Congress aware of flight tests, the deployment of illegal INF missiles, and the specifics of treaty breach-related data provided to NATO allies; and the development of missiles and other weapons to counter INFs if Russia continues to violate the pact.
The legislation, which passed the House last month, also would block funding for implementing the New START strategic arms treaty unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF.
On the Russian charges of U.S. INF violations, the report said Russia claimed Aegis Ashore launchers were capable of launching INF ballistic or cruise offensive missiles.
"As explained in detail to Russia, the U.S. Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System is fully consistent with U.S. obligations under the INF Treaty: it was designed and tested for missile defense purposes only and does not have an offensive capability," the report said.
Moscow also "again raised concerns relating to armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ballistic target missiles, both of which we previously had addressed in the Special Verification Commission."