Once upon a time, U.S. and Russian ballistic missile activities were front page news around the world. Both sides watched each other very carefully, assessing every new missile development, test and deployment carefully and arguing vociferously over treaty violations real and apparent. The fall of the Soviet Union and a 90 percent reduction in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces drove the subject off the front page and out of the minds of most defense experts.
At least this was true for the West, in general, and the United States, in particular. Every other nuclear nation, declared and not, is aggressively modernizing and expanding their nuclear arsenals. North Korea recently demonstrated a successful space launch using a vehicle that could double for an intercontinental ballistic missile. Add to that Pyongyang’s third nuclear test earlier this year and the prospects for instability in the Asia-Pacific region goes way up. China has thousands of theater ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles able to target U.S. bases in the region and those of our Asian allies. Beijing also is deploying advanced, land mobile ICBMs and its first sea-launched strategic ballistic missile submarines.
Russia has not let the so-called reset in relations with the Obama Administration hinder its strategic nuclear modernization program. If anything, the New Start Agreement allowed Russia to build up even as the U.S reduced its strategic nuclear forces. Western intelligence sources predict that by 2020, Moscow will have replaced all its Cold War SS-25 and SS-19 missile units with modern SS-27s and SS-29s, more than half of which will be road-mobile. The Russian Navy is deploying at least one new submarine-launched ballistic missile and working on a second (the solid-fueled Bulava).
Recently, arms control experts raised concerns that Russia is developing a missile that violates the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the USSR and the United States. The INF Treaty eliminated all ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5500 miles. Yet, just this year, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces tested a new missile, the Rubezh or Yars M, to a range of approximately 2800 nm, which would be a violation of the INF Treaty. Even if this were but a shortened flight test of a true ICBM, it suggests a Russian interest in and ability to employ ICBMs as theater strike weapons.
The broader issue is whether Cold War era treaties such as INF have outlived their usefulness. Russian President Putin has called for doing away with the INF Treaty. Faced with a massive Chinese offensive missile threat as well as Beijing’s growing arsenal of air and missile defense interceptors, it seems sensible for Washington to join with Moscow in setting this hoary agreement aside. Then the U.S. could deploy land and sea-based theater missiles to counter the Chinese and North Korean threats.
Find Archived Articles: