The US Must Challenge Russia’s Lawless Behavior
Co-written with Congressman Mike Rogers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowed for too long to get away with lawless behavior without serious pushback from the U.S. and its allies. He has spent well over a decade doing everything in his power to undermine the security system put in place at the end of the Cold War, threatening international security and stability.
First he invaded Georgia in 2008. Then Moscow illegally seized and annexed Crimea in 2014 and invaded portions of eastern Ukraine. Putin’s troops are still illegally occupying territory in these sovereign countries.
But the kleptocrat of the Kremlin did not stop there: Under his watch, Russia has been systematically cheating on important arms control agreements, first and foremost the 1987 Intermediate-Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty; this violation directly threatens the security of the American people and calls into question Russian adherence to other treaties like the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction (START) Treaty.
In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the INF Treaty, which prohibited the flight, production or possession of all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The signing of the treaty was a monumental and unique accomplishment in arms control: It was the first, and is still the only, treaty to not simply reduce or limit the number of a class of weapon but to actually prohibit a category of weapons outright. It marked a crucial step toward ensuring European stability and securing U.S. interests in the region. And it marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War on terms dictated by the United States and the West.
Unfortunately, Putin believes the fall of the Soviet Union was among history’s great tragedies.
For more than eight years now, Putin’s Russia has been in flagrant violation of the INF Treaty. Press reports indicate that Russia had violated the treaty by testing prohibited missiles as early as 2008. Fast forward nine years, and now the Russians have crossed a dangerous threshold from flight testing to actual deployment of a prohibited cruise missile called the SSC-8, reportedly at two locations in Russia.
Between 2008 and 2017, what did we do to confront Russia about these violations? Virtually nothing. Even after the intelligence community reportedly reached agreement that the Russians had violated the treaty, the Obama administration spent almost three years debating internally whether to actually publicly confront Russia over its violation.
The Russians, keenly able to sniff out weakness, exploited this complacency and raced toward their test, production and now deployment of their prohibited weapons system.
The bottom line is this: We’ve held up our end of the bargain, while the Russians have been busy cheating. We have adhered to the letter of the law under the treaty. Now the Russians have deployed weapons systems that expose the U.S. and our European and Asian allies to serious risks.
The only way to mitigate this risk is by employing a two-track strategy. First, the Trump administration should spare no diplomatic effort to try to ensure our allies use all political and economics tools at their disposal to put Russia on its heels for violating the INF Treaty. But these efforts alone will not be sufficient, as numerous U.S. military leaders have recently testified.
In parallel with the diplomatic track, the U.S. needs to develop a military response that makes it clear to Russia that its violations do not make it safer. We should invest in modernization of our strategic delivery systems. This should include a new ballistic missile submarine, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, a new strategic bomber and a new air-launched nuclear cruise missile — the long-range stand-off system, or LRSO — and our dual capable aircraft.
Developing the LRSO is especially important, as Russia is working on increasingly sophisticated air defense systems. This system will allow the U.S. to hold critical Russian targets at risk.
We should also ensure that our allies in the region have enhanced conventional strike capabilities. Several NATO allies already have the infrastructure to launch the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) from their naval vessels. Yet right now the United Kingdom is the only U.S. ally that has purchased the Tomahawk SLCM. If more allies are interested in purchasing this weaponry, we should help them to do so.
The U.S. and NATO should also work toward stationing improved rocket artillery systems on the territory of our eastern allies. Systems like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or the Multiple Launch Rocket System do not violate the INF Treaty. But they would add substantial firepower to the NATO alliance. If our allies were to seek the acquisition of these systems, this would be a real line in the sand against Russia and a meaningful increase to the operational capabilities of the alliance.
We must also remind Russia of why it ratified the INF Treaty in the first place: It realized it would lose a contest with the U.S. and its allies over production of intermediate-range ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles. That’s why we introduced H.R. 1182, the “INF Treaty Preservation Act of 2017.” By beginning nontreaty-prohibited research and development of potential ground-launched intermediate-range systems, we can remind Russia of what it didn’t like about the U.S. and its allies having these capabilities. With several thousand Tomahawk cruise missiles in inventory, it’s likely that research and development on the ground launch of this system could be completed quickly and inexpensively. Russia would then have a real choice to make regarding its violation of this treaty.
A combination of strong diplomatic and military initiatives will showcase the strength of the U.S. and its allies and make Russia realize the price of its violations. This strategy is our only hope, and it’s way overdue. We must send a clear message to Moscow: The U.S. will no longer stand idly by while it tramples on international law and risks global security and stability.
Poe is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Rogers is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.
Originally Published in The Hill