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Are Russia and America Headed for a 'Missile' Showdown?

For the United States, a new INF-class missile would seem to be completely superfluous since Washington has plenty of air-launched nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that can accomplish the same mission. Moreover, as Ambassador Stephen Pifer notes, it would take many years and billions of dollars to develop a new American INF range missile and it is very unlikely that European NATO members would allow such a weapon to be deployed on their territory.

Indeed, starting the development of a new American INF-class missile might play right into Russian hands. The Russians have been trying to maneuver the United States into abrogating the INF treaty first given their own violation of the accord. Thus, Congress could be handing the Kremlin a propaganda victory.

“Paradoxically, formal accusation of violation made Russian withdrawal less likely: it is one thing to abrogate a treaty that you judge is no longer in your national interest and quite another thing abrogating a treaty you’d just supposedly violated,” former Soviet and Russian arms control negotiator Nikolai Sokov, now a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The National Interest. “Some Russian counter-accusations make sense, but are vastly weaker, in any event. I suspect that now they seek to maneuver the U.S. into abrogating first, that would solve their problem. Looks like they are succeeding.”

NATO has to start discussing such issues now since the collapse or abrogation of the INF treaty would be highly destabilizing, unleashing an expensive and dangerous new nuclear arms race in Europe with far reaching consequences that cannot be foreseen. “We discussed our strategic nuclear issues, in which I received input from our allies to our ongoing posture review in Washington D.C.,” Mattis said. “NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance, and it is natural and necessary for us to have such discussions among trusted allies.”

NATO has, Mattis noted, has been a nuclear-armed alliance from the day it was founded on April 4, 1949, with the signing of the Washington Treaty. Thus, it is crucial for the 29-member NATO alliance to discuss nuclear issues even though apart from the United States only Britain and France have an independent nuclear capability.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveMajumdar.

Image: Reuters