Russia has violated a 1987 treaty explicitly banning the testing of medium-range missiles, according to a U.S. announcement to NATO earlier this month. According to U.S. officials, Russia has been flight-testing a new ground-launched cruise missile since as early as 2008. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is considered a benchmark accord in curbing the Cold War superpowers’ arms race. NATO countries view the treaty as an important safeguard against possible Russian aggression. The NYT reports:
“If the Russian government has made a considered decision to field a prohibited system,” Franklin C. Miller, a former defense official at the White House and the Pentagon, said, “then it is the strongest indication to date that they are not interested in pursuing any arms control, at least through the remainder of President Obama’s term.”It took years for American intelligence to gather information on Russia’s new missile system, but by the end of 2011, officials say it was clear that there was a compliance concern.
This isn’t just a technical dispute about a missile treaty; it’s a signal of a possible shipwreck for White House foreign policy. Obama’s grand plan has been to approach Russia with open arms and calls for friendship and cooperation, with the assumption that Putin would reciprocate and help his administration arrange workable compromises in Syria and Iran.But suppose the Russians aren’t interested in helping the United States out of difficult situations, but instead hope to use the friendly entreaties as part of a general strategy of reducing American power and revising the post-Cold War status quo in Eurasia? And suppose they see American flexibility as a sign of fecklessness and weakness rather than as sincere friendship?The Russians are playing an old game. They’re betting on a weak response from Obama and are hoping to deepen the skepticism among U.S. NATO allies that America can be counted on to tamp down Russian antagonism. The Cold War may be over, but Russia is still deeply committed to containing NATO.An open violation of the missile treaty would make it much harder for the Obama Administration to stick to the narrative it so desperately wants to be true. It will also likely have an impact in Congress, making it much, much harder for the Administration to keep its domestic critics at bay.