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Yevgeny Pozhidayev: Why the United States is withdrawing from INF Treaty

On May 24, the U.S. Congress approved a draft of the military budget envisaging an annual moratorium on the INF Treaty. It was not a surprise.

On Mar 13, the Americans said that they might place nuclear cruise missiles on ships and low-yield explosives on cruise and ballistic missiles of submarines. The official goal was to force Russia to go back to INF Treaty and to checkmate it. In Apr, the treaty was mentioned in Chinese context. Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson said: "I believe the INF treaty today unfairly puts the United States at a disadvantage and places our forces at risk because China is not a signatory… In the Indo-Pacific, the absence of the INF treaty would provide additional options to counter China's existing missile capabilities.”

On May 10, the U.S. Congress Committee on Armed Services moved to annul the treaty. According to Congressman Michael Turner, that would force Russia to observe the treaty it had violated for years. Besides, that would enable the United States to develop new arms for restraining new nuclear challenges coming from China.

By violations the Americans mean the use of long range cruise missiles (Kalibrs) by land mobile launchers. Theoretically, this is possible but also possible is similar use of American Tomahawks. In 2005-2007. There was an offer to develop Kalibr M anti-ship missile system using 300-km Kalibrs. This system is also known as Iskander. But it is not used by the armed forces – obviously because of the INF Treaty. But the Americans claim that the Russians have eight such systems and, as always, they have nothing to prove their words. But even if the Russian army used Kalibr Ks, that would be just an equivalent to the deployment of American Mk-41 systems in Poland – systems that can use Tomahawks. And the number of American Tomahawks is much bigger than that of semi-fantastic Kalibr MS – 4,000 against just 32.

All this looks just like a wish to shelve the INF Treaty.

So, why are the Americans withdrawing from the INF Treaty? In the 1980s, intermediate range missiles in Europe (Pershings and Griffons) were an organic part of the Americans’ offensive system. It also comprised submarine-launched ballistic missiles (Tridents), seaborne cruise missiles (Tomahawks) and airborne cruise missiles (AGM-89 and AGM-129), and stealth planes. All these systems had very short flight-in time.

The official goal of the Americans’ Strategic Defense Initiative of that time was to intercept 1,500 Soviet missiles to be hypothetically launched in case of a Soviet attack but the real goal was to destroy the remnants of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

In other words, at those times, the activities to develop antimissile defense systems were part of the general program to develop offensive arms.

The same is true in the 2010s. Trump’s plans to modernize America’s nuclear forces are just a follow-up on Obama’s program. The Americans have modernized their Tridents since 2009 and now they have MC4700 fuzes and can destroy launch silos.

So, we can see that the American antimissile defense is actively developing. The Americans are testing SM-3 and have successfully tested GBI interceptor. The reports that Sm-3s failed to intercept North Korean missiles over Japan sound like an anecdote as the missiles were arched and would never reach the United States. And even though the missiles had maneuverable reentry vehicles helping them to avoid antimissiles systems at the final stage, SM-3 and GBI are exoatmospheric interceptors.

As a result, today, we can see the remake of the 1980s and not only in Europe but also in East Asia. The INF Treaty is dead but the United States will try to make best of the treaty before burying it. For the Russians, the situation is much worse than it was in the 1980s. Since then, NATO’s borders moved from the center of Germany to the suburbs of St. Petersburg, while the range of strategic cruise missiles has amounted to 3,700 km. For your reference, the distance from Warsaw to Yekaterinburg is 2,567 km.

And this is only one of the aspects of the Pentagon’s new initiatives. The second one is even more dangerous as it is more realistic. The use of low-yield explosives by submarines is the first step to restore America’s tactical nuclear arsenal.

In theory, a nuclear attack is possible only if a state has nothing else to lose. Russia’s nuclear doctrine says that a nuclear weapon should be used only in case of a deadly threat to the country or in case of a nuclear attack on it.

For 60 years already, the great powers have been preparing for a limited nuclear war. The Americans formulated their “flexible response” doctrine in 1963. It said that in case of an invasion of Europe, the Americans would be able to use conventional forces and tactical nuclear arms. The Soviet Union warned that a limited nuclear war would inevitably grow into global one. Officially, it had more conventional forces but de facto it turned out to also have more tactical nuclear arms.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the situation turned about. Now it was Russia’s time to rely on tactical nuclear arms as a compensation for scarcity of conventional forces. The Russians were compelled to cut their tactical nuclear arsenal, but the Americans were not satisfied as it was still large.

In 2014, RAND announced that if Russia used tactical nuclear arms, the United States would be defeated.

The Americans claim that the Russians have at least 3,800 tactical nuclear bombs (Greenpeace even mentioned 22,000).

The problem is that even 3,800 is a figure used by Ukraine-based National Institute for Strategic Studies in its survey of 1999. Officially, the Americans have 400 bombs (B61s).

The Pentagon claims that any time soon, Russia is going to make 2,000 more nuclear bombs. In other words, this is a frightening challenge and the Americans need to react immediately.

But the problem is that in reality Russia has no more than 2,000 tactical nuclear explosives, including explosives of antimissile and anti-ship systems and 500 free-fall air bombs (but they can hardly be used effectively against the Americans’ huge air force)

The Americans are silent about their own capabilities. They have at least 1,000 warheads for Tomahawks (which can be used by other modern missiles as well). So, their concern looks a bit far-fetched.

On the other hand, their nuclear doctrine says that they will use nuclear weapons only to protect their own vital interests or the interests of their allies and partners. If their deterrence policy yields no results, the United States will try to put an end to any conflict with minimum losses and to the maximum benefit of its people, allies and partners.

This means that there will be no more restrictions for the use of nuclear arms and that Russia is not a priority in this doctrine. The document also says that the Russians may resort to preventive measures in futile hope to paralyze the United States and NATO.

This is a warning that if Russia uses nuclear arms, it will face a limited nuclear war.

The truth is that over the last six decades, the key deterrent was not the nuclear bomb as it is but the lack of any critical prerequisites for a war – ideological confrontation is not a weighty ground for a war unlike economic one. Today, the situation is different.

Yevgeny Pozhidayev

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