5 February 2019   Leave a comment

I received a very interesting comment on my post on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty:

“Prof. Ferraro, could you please comment on this press release from NATO? I assumed that withdrawal from the INF treaty was a unilateral act by the US like withdrawal from the Iran treaty. Then I saw a tweet from French ambassador to the US Gerard Araud blaming Russia for necessitating US suspension of its participation in the treaty. The NATO press release says, “Allies fully support this action.” https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_162996.htm Yet I see many analysts saying the US withdrawal can only benefit Russia. Can you please clarify whether the US is acting in concert with European allies here or is acting essentially alone and forcing them to construe it in the best possible light?


The answer to the question lies in the distinction between the security agencies within the European NATO governments and the opinions of the European publics. The European security agencies do regard Russia as a strategic threat and are deeply invested in supporting NATO. Those agencies are currently deeply apprehensive about the attitude of the Trump Administration toward NATO and do not wish to provide an excuse for President Trump to end US support for NATO. Therefore, they are inclined to mirror President Trump’s concern about the new Russian missile.

There is actually a great deal of confusion about the Russian violation of the INF Treaty–the Russians insist that the violating missile has not yet been deployed even though it has been tested. Nonetheless, NATO views the possible violation in the light of other Russian actions: its annexation of Crimea, its continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, its provocative behavior in the Kerch Strait, its testing of air and maritime space in the Baltic and North Seas, and its military activity in the Kaliningrad enclave.

However, outside of NATO–which was created precisely to counter a perceived threat from the then Soviet Union–there has always been apprehension about US intermediate range missiles in Europe. Those missiles, stationed in Great Britain and Germany in Europe, but also in Turkey and Japan during the height of the Cold War, were necessary to provide a deterrent to aggressive Soviet action before the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). After ICBMS were developed in the early 1960s, the intermediate-range missiles were not really necessary to deter a Soviet attack on the US homeland. Indeed, intermediate-range missiles, defined as those missiles which fly between 310 and 3,250 miles, could not hit the Soviet homeland if fired from the US.

So the intermediate-range missiles became part of what was called “extended deterrence”: missiles that would be used in case of a Soviet/Russian attack on an American ally, not an attack on the American homeland. Currently the US missiles are deterring attacks on 32 nations: 28 US NATO allies, plus Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Israel. 

For some in Europe, the US intermediate-range missiles actually make US allies targets of a Soviet/Russian attack. This constituency fears that the presence of American missiles on their soil could embroil them in a US-Soviet/Russian dispute in which they have no national interest. This fear became quite pronounced in Europe during the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, and there was a strong European movement to remove those missiles. In the US, this movement was known as the Nuclear Freeze Movement. That movement led to the INF Treaty which removed US and Soviet intermediate-range missiles from European soil, a singular triumph for arms control.

What we should look for is any movement to place ground-based intermediate-range missiles in Europe (the INF Treaty did not cover air- or sea-launched intermediate-range missiles). Even if the Trump Administration does end the INF Treaty (right now, it is merely a “suspension” although I am not really sure what that means), I sincerely doubt that the European publics would support such a move.

The Trump Administration is rather more concerned about the Chinese development of intermediate-range missiles and wishes a free hand to develop such missiles to counter that threat. Russia does not make a distinction between intermediate-range missiles targeting China from such missiles targeting Russia because they can me moved around quickly. We will have to see what the next step is for the US.

Posted February 5, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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