In March 2017 General Paul Selva, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that Russia has deployed a battalion of land-based cruise missiles in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, at a United States House Armed Services Committee hearing. This is a blatant display of Vladimir Putin’s disdain for the Western-led rules-based international order, and an attempt to intimidate and fracture the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO).
The INF Treaty was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 to short circuit the arms race in Europe. It required the elimination of all ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,420 miles). The agreement also prevented the development and testing of such missiles. By May 1991, over 2,600 American and Russian missiles were destroyed, eliminating the two countries’ ground launched intermediate-range missile systems.
Since 2007, Russian diplomats have been trying to renegotiate the INF Treaty because neighbors, who are not subject to the treaty, have intermediate-range ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs). Instead of invoking Article XV clause 2 and legally withdrawing from the treaty, Russia chose to violate it.
In 2008, Russia began testing a non-INF compliant GLCM, and in 2014 the U.S. Department of State officially reported Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty. The missile system in question is the SSC-8, believed to be a nuclear-capable ground-launched variant of the Kalibr sea-launched cruise missile with a 2,000km (1,242 miles) range.
The Kremlin violated the treaty because Moscow believes it is at war with the West. In Russia’s current military doctrine, of the 13 external dangers mentioned in the doctrine, 10 are aimed at the United States and NATO. NATO and its possible expansion are first on the list of external military dangers, and second is the West’s destabilization of countries and undermining of global and regional stability.
Russia defines the nature of modern warfare as the “integrated use of military force, political, economic, informational, and other non-military measures.” By violating the INF Treaty and deploying the SSC-8, Moscow is returning to its Cold War brinksmanship.
The SSC-8 however does not give the Kremlin any new significant military advantages. Its treaty compliant capabilities already blanket Europe and Asia. Nonetheless, Russia continued development even during the Obama Administration’s pursuit of a reset of relations, and chose to deploy the SSC-8 precisely when the Trump Administration came into office.
To keep the West at bay while Moscow attempts to regain its regional influence and undermine the international order, the Kremlin relies heavily on its nuclear arsenal to deter both conventional and nuclear conflicts. Article 27 of Russia’s military doctrine reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict if the “very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” If deterrence were to fail, Moscow is open to controlled escalation using tactical and even low yield strategic nuclear weapons to de-escalate the conflict.
The deployment of the nuclear capable SSC-8 is thus both a political statement and a logical extension of Russia’s military doctrine aimed to intimidate NATO. By not withdrawing from the INF Treaty and developing and deploying the illegal weapon system, Putin is reminding the West that he does not respect the Western-led international order while simultaneously trying to saber-rattle his way to being treated as a “great power.”
The violation of the INF Treaty is a part of the Kremlin’s greater goal to destabilize Europe. In spite of their nuclear capabilities, Russia is not a great power. However, what Moscow lacks in influence it makes up in coercion. By violating the INF Treaty, Moscow hopes to tarnish the perception that the United States is committed to defending the international order and ultimately bring doubt to Washington’s allegiance to NATO.
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