Russia has violated international agreements by annexing Crimea and has likely breached the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing prohibited missiles. These developments suggest Washington should tread cautiously when dealing with Russia in the future. Ironically, though, the Pentagon announced cutbacks of deployed nuclear forces in April, four years ahead of the due date, to abide by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) — even as Russia raises doubts about its adherence to commitments.
Most recently, Moscow has illegally seized Crimea, claiming the Russian speaking population desired reunification with Russia, and has had troops posted on the eastern Ukrainian border for months – apparently to pressure Kiev. By grabbing Crimea, Moscow contravened the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. agreed to protect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, in exchange for its relinquishing of nuclear weapons – the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world at the time. Thus far, the U.S. has responded to the unlawful takeover of Crimea by implementing economic sanctions on Russia and performing a NATO military exercise, Rapid Trident.
A second agreement Moscow is likely to have breached is the INF Treaty. This pact was signed in 1987 between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to eliminate missiles with intermediate ranges, between 500 and 5,500 km (300-3,400 miles). Four missiles in particular developed by Russia have called into question Moscow’s commitment to this agreement, the SS-25 road mobile inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), the R-500 cruise missile, the RS-26 ballistic missile, and the Iskander-M semi-ballistic missile.
The Obama Administration has chosen to remain silent with regard to possible infringements of the INF Treaty and not confront Russian leaders, thus ignoring concerns expressed by members of Congress and think tanks. As a result, two problems have been created. For one, the silence suggests that Washington may not hold nations accountable to all international agreements. It is not a good time for the world to doubt America’s credibility — especially since very serious outcomes are pending, such as the removal of chemical weapons in Syria and ongoing discussions with Iran that will hopefully lead to a final deal on its nuclear program.
In addition, lack of INF Treaty accountability may lead European allies to wonder where Washington’s priorities stand — the INF Treaty was specifically created to put the brakes on a spiraling arms race in Europe. If Europeans feel they are no longer a U.S. priority, they may not view collective security agreements as sufficient to protect their sovereignty. In turn, this may motivate them to develop their own nuclear weapons instead, as pointed out by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) — which would also undermine nonproliferation efforts and Obama’s dream of a world without nuclear weapons. After all, most experts agree that Russia would have thought twice before grabbing Crimea if Ukraine still had its own nuclear arsenal.
The Obama Administration looked a bit too eager when it announced the reduction of deployed nuclear forces in April. According to the Department of Defense’s press release, U.S. deployed forces will consist of 400 ICBMs, 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and 60 nuclear-capable heavy bombers to equal 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, the treaty limit. The defense department has estimated that abiding by New START limits will cost about $300 million through fiscal year 2018.
While Washington wants to remain faithful to New START, announcing planned reductions in deployed nuclear strength during a time when Moscow is flouting international vows was not a smart move. The Pentagon’s announcement appears even more questionable when considering that Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists reported Russia has increased its deployed strategic nuclear forces over the past six months. The Pentagon should have at least put a hold on its announcement until a better understanding is reached about how tensions between Ukraine and Russia will develop – it is worrisome for Washington to openly declare it will abide by New START when its signing partner seems to be following a very different path.
Moscow’s recent moves and broken promises have caused the world to rethink Russian motives. If the U.S. does not hold Moscow accountable to the INF Treaty, it may cause nations to doubt America’s word and other security guarantees. There is no doubt Moscow has ignored the Budapest Memorandum and, fortunately, Washington responded. President Obama should make a public announcement regarding Russia’s probable violations of the INF Treaty and/or discuss the issue with Russian leaders. It also would not hurt if the leader of the free world refrained from making America appear weaker by announcing the drawdown of deployed nuclear weapons when international tensions are increasing and other countries, like Russia, are enhancing their nuclear forces.
Find Archived Articles: