It’s being reported by the Associated Press and just about every other news site on the planet that Russia stands accused of conducting intermediate cruise missile tests, a violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987. Here’s some of the AP’s copy.
The U.S. says Russia tested a new ground-launched cruise missile, breaking the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that President Ronald Reagan signed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Russian officials say they have looked into the allegations and consider the matter closed.
Okay, but what does that mean? For many people I suspect this sounds like highly technical and unimportant but the exact opposite is true. Nuclear weapons treaties in the 80s were hard fought affairs with everything at stake. The INF Treaty, finally signed in 1987, took four years to accomplish and set the stage for further disarmament agreements that brought Cold War tensions down to historically low levels. Specifically, it resulted in the removal of most intermediate nuclear weapons possessed by NATO which were almost all pointed straight at the U.S.S.R.
So, why would Russia now violate that treaty? Short answer, U.S. missile defense systems in Central Europe. While the original plan to deploy a missile defense shield, ostensibly in order to ward of the attacks of rogue nations (read, Iran), the implementation of such a technology in Russia’s backyard made the Kremlin feel like it was actually a provocation against them. This plan was ratcheted back after Barack Obama became President but it’s not dead. The U.S. agreed to station intercept missiles on U.S. warships instead of planting them all over Central Europe but Romania will still be housing some intercept systems beginning in 2015.
As a result, it’s not surprising that Russia would have begun conducting work on improving its intermediate missile technologies in order to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. And Russia has already warned the West that they might do this.
On February 10, 2007, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin declared that the INF Treaty no longer serves Russia’s interests. On February 14, ITAR-Tassand Interfax quoted General Yuri Baluyevsky, the Russian military’schief of general staff, as saying that Russia could pull out of the INF, and that the decision would depend on the United States’ actions with its proposed Ground-Based Midcourse Defensemissile defense system, parts of which the U.S. at the time planned to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic (since then, the plans have been abandoned in favor of different systems based on sea and in Romania, see National missile defense).
So none of this should be a surprise and while it’s concerning, it’s not a sign of an imminent nuclear apocalypse. If anything, it’s Russia trying to hold on to its old sphere of influence which includes Poland which will be hosting what the Kremlin views as anti-Russian weapons built to keep the Bear at arm’s distance.
So, i’m not saying this is the West’s fault, I’m just saying that literally no one in any Western government is surprised by this and I imagine that we’ve known it for quite a while.