Russians Not Only Violate Nuke Treaty, But Threaten Reagan’s “Legacy”

An early Russian intercontinental ballistic missile (Public domain / Wikimedia Commons)

An early Russian intercontinental ballistic missile (Public domain / Wikimedia Commons)

As if the Ukraine and Russia granting asylum to Edward Snowden weren’t enough, another significant bone of contention has arisen between the United States and Russia. In the New York Times, Michael Gordon reports

The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty [the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty] by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday [July 28].

Russia first began testing the cruise missiles as early as 2008, according to American officials, and the Obama administration concluded by the end of 2011 that they were a compliance concern.

A State Department report that Gordon cites states:

The United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the I.N.F. treaty not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.

Wait, how come states are allowed missiles that can travel farther than 5,500 kilometers? NATO’s top general, Philip Breedlove provides Gordon with some insight.

“A weapon capability that violates the I.N.F., that is introduced into the greater European land mass, is absolutely a tool that will have to be dealt with,” he said in an interview in April.

In other words, the INF prevents Russia from launching intercontinental ballistic missiles at Europe and the United States and NATO from launching them at Russia from Europe.

The INF, which was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s leader Mikhail Gorbachev, writes Gordon, “helped seal the end of the Cold War and has been regarded as a cornerstone of American-Russian arms control efforts.”

But, writes Jeffrey Lewis in Foreign Policy (behind a paywall), Moscow’s newfound “ability to threaten capitals throughout NATO represents a challenge to the cohesion of the alliance.” Even though, “At times, it seems like this treaty was drafted with all the precision of two winos trying to work out a complex problem in astrophysics.” Lewis reminds us:

It won’t hurt to remind Moscow that it agreed to the treaty because it feared the U.S. deployment of intermediate range systems that could reach Moscow in only a few minutes.

But nobody is addressing how violating the INF not only threatens the national security of Europe, it also threatens to wreck Ronald Reagan’s legacy (if you call it that). Remember the Reykjavík Summit in 1986, at which Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev briefly entertained the notion of entirely ending their mutual nuclear-weapons programs? That imploded when Reagan wouldn’t let go of his childlike fantasy of a missile defense system would shield us from nuclear harm. (He obviously lacked faith that the USSR would give up all its nukes.) But the Reykjavik Summit did produce the INF.

Without the INF, the truth about Reagan’s record is that it’s all debits, no assets.