Why America Must Stop Russia from Violating the INF Treaty

Military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. Kremlin.ru

The United States needs leverage to persuade the Kremlin to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty.

These measures would not contravene the INF Treaty. They would be far cheaper than building new ground-launched intermediate-range missiles. They would prove much more acceptable politically in Europe. Moreover, the United States could readily reverse those steps if Russia ceased its treaty violation.

Washington should also consider diplomatic measures. The Russian violation is a treaty issue between the Washington and Moscow, but Russian intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles cannot reach the United States. (Alaska might be at some risk, but only if the Russian military deployed missiles where it has not in the past.) The direct threat is to the countries of Europe and Asia.

The U.S. government should engage its allies in NATO and in the Far East, friends such as Sweden and Finland, and other countries such as China, inform them about the details of the Russian violation, and stress that they are potential targets of the new Russian missile. The goal should be to “multilateralize” the problem, that is, to increase political and diplomatic pressure on Moscow from third countries who presumably would not want to see this new threat to their security.

Would this have a major impact on the Kremlin’s calculation? Perhaps. German chancellor Angela Merkel plans to visit Moscow in early May. Washington should ask that she place the INF Treaty violation high on her agenda with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Having countries other than just the United States complain to Russia about the violation—preferably directly to Mr. Putin—could increase the prospects that Moscow might reconsider its actions.

The United States needs leverage to persuade the Kremlin to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty. Increasing U.S. conventionally armed sea- and air-based weapons in Europe would be a countervailing measure that would offset the military advantages that Russia hopes to secure by its violation. Getting third countries to beat up on Moscow would raise the political and diplomatic costs.

Hopefully, such steps would lead the Kremlin to recalculate the pros and cons of adhering to the treaty and end its violation of it. Success will depend on the United States and its allies creating leverage. Admittedly, it is a long shot, but it is worth a try.

Steven Pifer directs the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative.

Image: Military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. Kremlin.ru

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