Over the weekend, Foreign Policy posted a column of mine on Russia’s compliance, or lack thereof, with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The short version is that, while the the treaty is loosely worded, the Russians appear to be deploying two systems that are inconsistent with its viability — what I like to call the RS-26 “intermediate-range ICBM” and the R-500 cruise missile.. These systems pose a political problem, since they appear design to deter Western European states from meeting their NATO obligations to new NATO members like Poland and the Baltics. Since the challenge is a political one to the cohesion of NATO, my recommendations are largely political in nature. We don’t need new intermediate range nuclear forces, which would probably divide the alliance. But we should make Russian noncompliance a public issue, in both the next State Department Compliance Report and in a public speech by the Secretary of Defense. I would also propose a study of conventionally-armed intermediate range forces, an amendment of a suggestion by Bridge Colby, to remind Moscow why it agreed to the INF Treaty in the first place. I wouldn’t deploy such systems, of course, if we could resolve the issues relating to the RS-26 and R-500.
There are always little odds and ends that I can’t work into the piece, but this week there are more than usual.
Also, the comments at Foreign Policy can be a little … well … um … I have the greatest readers in the world here at ACW!
1. I have a pretty grim view of the situation in Moscow. The short version is that I take Putin at his word when says the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. I take that to mean that he believes Gorbachev should have used force to prevent the loss of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. If I am right about that, this view explains why he is willing to murder dissidents, journalists and bankers, send the riots police into club protestors and now dismember neighboring states. This isn’t a bad time to re-read either Kennan’s long telegram, or his “Mr. X” article in Foreign Affairs. Here’s a pretty fair sample:
Now it lies in the nature of the mental world of the Soviet leaders, as well as in the character of their ideology, that no opposition to them can be officially recognized as having any merit or justification whatsoever. Such opposition can flow, in theory, only from the hostile and incorrigible forces of dying capitalism. As long as remnants of capitalism were officially recognized as existing in Russia, it was possible to place on them, as an internal element, part of the blame for the maintenance of a dictatorial form of society. But as these remnants were liquidated, little by little, this justification fell away, and when it was indicated officially that they had been finally destroyed, it disappeared altogether. And this fact created one of the most basic of the compulsions which came to act upon the Soviet regime: since capitalism no longer existed in Russia and since it could not be admitted that there could be serious or widespread opposition to the Kremlin springing spontaneously from the liberated masses under its authority, it became necessary to justify the retention of the dictatorship by stressing the menace of capitalism abroad.
This began at an early date. In 1924 Stalin specifically defended the retention of the “organs of suppression,” meaning, among others, the army and the secret police, on the ground that “as long as there is a capitalistic encirclement there will be danger of intervention with all the consequences that flow from that danger.” In accordance with that theory, and from that time on, all internal opposition forces in Russia have consistently been portrayed as the agents of foreign forces of reaction antagonistic to Soviet power.
By the same token, tremendous emphasis has been placed on the original Communist thesis of a basic antagonism between the capitalist and Socialist worlds. It is clear, from many indications, that this emphasis is not founded in reality. The real facts concerning it have been confused by the existence abroad of genuine resentment provoked by Soviet philosophy and tactics and occasionally by the existence of great centers of military power, notably the Nazi regime in Germany and the Japanese Government of the late 1930s, which indeed have aggressive designs against the Soviet Union. But there is ample evidence that the stress laid in Moscow on the menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home.
Now the maintenance of this pattern of Soviet power, namely, the pursuit of unlimited authority domestically, accompanied by the cultivation of the semi-myth of implacable foreign hostility, has gone far to shape the actual machinery of Soviet power as we know it today. Internal organs of administration which did not serve this purpose withered on the vine. Organs which did serve this purpose became vastly swollen. The security of Soviet power came to rest on the iron discipline of the Party, on the severity and ubiquity of the secret police, and on the uncompromising economic monopolism of the state. The “organs of suppression,” in which the Soviet leaders had sought security from rival forces, became in large measures the masters of those whom they were designed to serve. Today the major part of the structure of Soviet power is committed to the perfection of the dictatorship and to the maintenance of the concept of Russia as in a state of siege, with the enemy lowering beyond the walls. And the millions of human beings who form that part of the structure of power must defend at all costs this concept of Russia’s position, for without it they are themselves superfluous.
As things stand today, the rulers can no longer dream of parting with these organs of suppression. The quest for absolute power, pursued now for nearly three decades with a ruthlessness unparalleled (in scope at least) in modern times, has again produced internally, as it did externally, its own reaction. The excesses of the police apparatus have fanned the potential opposition to the regime into something far greater and more dangerous than it could have been before those excesses began.
But least of all can the rulers dispense with the fiction by which the maintenance of dictatorial power has been defended. For this fiction has been canonized in Soviet philosophy by the excesses already committed in its name; and it is now anchored in the Soviet structure of thought by bonds far greater than those of mere ideology.
2. In my piece, I speculate that the RS-26 is a two-stage SS-27 Mod 2. Others have suggested that the RS-26 may be a land-based Bulava. I lean against that hypothesis few reasons. First, a Russian official has said it was developed on the basis of the RS-24. That is a vague comment, but it is hard not to interpret in light of the fact that the SS-20 was simply a two-stage SS-16. The RS-26 appears to be a two-stage missile that just barely makes ICBM-range depending on the payload; the Bulava is a three-stage ICBM with an 8,000 km range. Moreover, Bulava has had a number of developmental problems. It is possible that the RS-26 is a two-stage Bulava, but the simplest answer is still a two-stage SS-27. All the more reason for State to raise the issue in the compliance report.
3. Some of the problem arising from the range of the R-500 cruise missile, which may be as much as 2,000 km, is really a problem of Kaliningrad. The geography of Eastern and Central Europe is such that there isn’t really much Russia can do with a 2,000 km-range cruise missile that it can’t do better with a 500 km range cruise missile — unless you put the R-500s in Kaliningrad. That suggests that Kaliningrad’s status as isolated Russian encalve amidst NATO nations is probably an important challenge for NATO and Russia to work out. But those are long, complicated questions to which I don’t have any answers.
4. Also, the Iskander is probably conventionally armed, which raises the question of whether we should care if Russia cheats on the INF treaty — the N is for nuclear — with conventional missiles. The treaty text makes no distinction among nuclear or conventional missiles — its formal title is The Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles — but let’s not kid ourselves. If the SS-20 delivered GOЯBY dolls, it would have been a short walk in the woods for Paul Nitze.
5. Finally, a colleague noted something about the name of the RS-26 Rubezh. Rubezh is usually translated as Frontier. Since the SS-20 was, in Russian, the Pioneer, I figured it was a cowboy thing. Nope. It’s more like “border” or “demarcation” as in “this missile is right on the border between INF and New START” or “Ric James is a habitual line stepper“. The Russian MoD is trolling NATO.
6. The first draft contained an extended discussion of the debate over INF within the Reagan Administration between Richard Burt and Richard Perle — the “two Richards.” (Although I am certain no one called them the two Richards.) That discussion draws on two excellent books by Strobe Talbott about arms control during the period, Deadly Gambits and Master of the Game. (My younger colleagues might not realize what a great journalist Talbott was before becoming a principal in his own right.) The important point is that the Reagan Administration pursued a “zero option” of banning all intermediate-range nuclear forces in a treaty with the Soviets largely because Richard Perle thought zero was a poison pill that the Russians would never swallow. But Gorbachev, who was plenty worried about the Pershing-2 and sensible in general, ultimately agreed to Perl’s surprise. Richard Perle, far from being happy, resigned in March 1987, telling a colleague “It’s getting to be springtime for arms control around here.” I love that story.
7. Finally, my colleague Nikolai Sokov has a different view that he has outlined here and elsewhere. I enjoy roping Nikolai into these discussions and couldn’t figure out how to link to his pieces. I managed to include a lot of links to Pavel Podvig’s excellent site, but I can’t say enough nice things about his work.