If the INF Treaty Dies, America and Russia Could See an Arms Race

File photo of U.S. President Ronald Reagan (R) and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the White House, on December 8 1987. [Reagan was elected as the 40th U.S. president in 1980. Former U.S. President Reagan's health is deteriorating and he could have only weeks to live, a U.S. source close to the situation said on June 4, 2004. Reagan, now 93, has long suffered from the brain-wasting Alzheimer's disease. The source said Reagan's condition had wo

And it would be a massive waste of money.

On November 8 the U.S. Senate approved the allocation of $58 million for research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile as part of National Defense Authorization Act, FY 2018. Herewith, it is stated that the scope of this program should “comply with Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty”—the treaty does not stipulate the ban for research and engineering of related technologies. According to this act, the taken measures respond to breaking of the INF Treaty by Russia. The situation is actually much more complicated, and the allocation of money for development of intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) will draw INF Treaty closer to dissolution than ever before. It’s symbolic that this escalation is happening near the thirtieth anniversary of signing the INF Treaty. The treaty aimed to make nuclear deterrence stronger and demilitarize Europe by banned all missiles that had a maximum flight range between 500 to 5500 km.

America and Russia Have Difficulties with Adherence

The United States and Russia have been accusing one another of violating the INF Treaty in recent years. American military and political elites routinely accuse Russia of ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) development, with range exceeding 500 km. The missile in question is called 9M729 (U.S. designation SSC-X-8) and, apparently, it can be used with Iskander-M Tactical Ballistic Missile System. Development of a missile with such a designation has been indirectly corroborated by Russian officials, but its technical specifications are unknown. There is no credible information on the deployment of a significant quantity of these missiles. However, one can assume that Russia has been preparing for a probable dissolution of the INF Treaty and developed a ground-based modification of the 3M-14 sea-launched cruise missile—of "Kalibr" family—with the possibility of setting up large-scale production. If such an assumption is true, then 9M729 can hit targets with high precision from a distance of more than 2000 km.

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The RS-26 "Rubezh" is another advanced mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is drawing protests from the United States. Technically, it complies with INF Treaty with a range of more than 5500 km, but it could also be used at the relatively small distance of 2000 km. This missile is versatile to the point that it can function both as an ICBM and an IRBM. However, the text of the INF Treaty says, “the range capability of a GLBM not listed in Article III of this Treaty shall be considered to be the maximum range to which it has been tested.” Therefore, Rubezh does in fact comply with the treaty. In order to provide further clarity, it would be advantageous to America and Russia to conduct extra negotiations and amend INF Treaty relating to such cases.

The deployment of the antiballistic missile (ABM) system Aegis Ashore in Romania and Poland is a particularly annoying to Moscow. Russia is worried because the SM-3 antimissile batteries are placed in Mk41 Vertical Launching Systems, which can be also used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles (with maximum range up to 1600 km). The INF Treaty bans the production of IRBM launching platforms, so this would constitute a direct noncompliance with the treaty.

Another controversial point is the development and use of medium-range target missiles for testing of the American missile defense systems. For instance, the Hera target missile has a maximum range of 1100 km. In effect, they are no different from regular IRBMs, and the treaty does not contain any explanations for resolving these situations.

The weakest part of INF Treaty relates to the definitions of cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (MALE and HALE classes). The term "cruise missile" means an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path, which can lead to confusion with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) becoming more ubiquitous. Russia does not yet have such UAVs—though the works on such projects is ongoing. That is why Moscow periodically accuses the United States of INF Treaty violations regarding. Russia clearly intends to build UAVs of the same class as the Western counterparts, which means that the INF Treaty will have to be amended in the near future.     

The Dissolution of INF Treaty Could Lead to an Arms Race