The White House is blocking the release of a Pentagon risk assessment of Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to a senior House leader.
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, disclosed the existence of the Pentagon assessment last month and said the report is needed for Congress’ efforts to address the problem in legislation.
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"As we look to the near-term future, we need to consider how we’re going to respond to Russia’s INF violations," Rogers said in an Air Force Association breakfast July 8. "Congress will not continue to tolerate the administration dithering on this issue."
Rogers said the assessment was conducted by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and noted that it outlines potential responses to the treaty breach.
However, Rogers noted that the assessment "seems to stay tied up in the White House."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks said: "The Chairman's assessment of Russia's Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty violation is classified and not releasable to the public."
Hicks said, however, that steps are being taking "across the government to address Russia's violation of the treaty, including preserving military response options—but no decision has been made with regard to the type of response, if any."
At the White House, a senior administration official said: "The United States continues to consider diplomatic, economic, and military responses to Russia's violation of the INF Treaty."
Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said in Omaha recently that a range of options is being studied.
"Clearly as a nation, we have options and we explore those options," Haney told the Washington Free Beacon, declining to provide details.
The four-star admiral who is in charge of U.S. nuclear and other strategic forces said he hopes the INF breach can be solved diplomatically.
"But clearly there are other options involving economics and as well as militarily that are considered," he said July 29.
Haney said Russia has "walked away" from international norms and treaties and "that is very problematic."
"While at the same time I get to see and witness [Russia’s] very forthright execution that is occurring with the New START treaty that they are adhering to completely, this piece on the INF treaty is very problematic and we have to continue to encourage Russia to get back into compliance with the treaty," Haney said.
The treaty violation was first disclosed by the State Department last year and details remain shrouded in secrecy.
The Pentagon assessment likely reflects the sentiments of NATO commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who has stated that the INF violations "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 in April 2014.
Critics in Congress have charged that the administration covered up the violation for several years, including during debate on the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia.
A department arms compliance report stated that the breach involved a new missile that violates the limits set by the treaty. The treaty bans holding, producing, or flight-testing ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 miles and 3,418 miles.
Rogers was asked what steps Congress should take if the administration continues to ignore the treaty violation.
"Well, the fact is we haven’t been doing enough so far," he said. "It was only about a year and a half ago that the administration finally acknowledged that Russia has been violating the INF Treaty. But we know they’ve been violating it for several years."
Rogers said President Obama has stated "in his normal dilatory fashion," that he has directed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to consider options for U.S. response.
"Those were given to him last December," Rogers said. "The president is still pondering what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs told him we should do."
The current defense authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2016 contains a requirement for the Pentagon to include anti-cruise missile defenses at bases built for that purpose in Poland and Romania, in response to the Russian violation.
The current bill would authorize $220.2 million for the missile defense base in Poland.
"What we are trying to do this year is put money in the budget for DoD to come up with some consequences that the Congress can implement to force some pain as a result of those actions," Rogers said of the INF violation.
A House Armed Services Committee spokesman said the counter-INF violation provisions, including a requirement to protect the Polish and Romanian bases from Russian cruise missile attacks, is currently being debated in the House-Senate conference on the final bill.
The House report on the bill states that the defenses are needed to "provide defense against Russian aircraft and cruise missile attacks."
"Russia has repeatedly threatened to attack these sites and the U.S. personnel who man them, and the Committee believes we have a moral obligation to defend our personnel against any threat," the report said.
Additionally, the bill would direct the Pentagon to undertake research and development for responses to the INF violation.
The current legislation calls on the president to begin developing military capabilities that include unspecified "counterforce" weapons that would "prevent intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic missile and cruise missile attacks.
Also, the bill calls for building "countervailing strike capabilities" that also were not specified.
The bill states that the secretary of defense may use funds for research, development, testing, and evaluating responses recommended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs that could be deployed in two years.
The legislation also would require a report to Congress within six months on the Pentagon’s plans for deploying new forces to counter the Russian INF violation.
Michaela Dodge, a military analyst with the Heritage Foundation, stated in a recent research report that the violation appears to involve Moscow’s development and testing of the R-500 cruise missile.
Moscow’s refusal to return to compliance with the accord indicates it should be abandoned.
"Russia’s aggressive and illegal behavior and the inability of the United States to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty indicate that the treaty has outlived its utility and is no longer in the U.S. interest," she said.
Dodge said the president, State Department, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have raised the INF violations with Russian counterparts "to no avail."
"The administration did not properly communicate deadlines to Russia for coming back into compliance with the treaty, and has failed to hold Russia accountable. As a consequence, Russian violations have gone unreported and unpunished for years," Dodge said.