Jane VaynmanINF Debate Shifts (plus a look back at 1987)

We have discussed quite a few times now the possibility of Russia’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, as well as a related issue of Russia’s response to proposed U.S. missile interceptors in Europe. (Feb 26, 2007, Feb 14, 2007 March 12, 2006 and March 10, 2006 Also, Pavel Podvig has more at russianforces.org)

To continue updates on this issue, I wanted to call attention to Rose Gottemoeller’s op-ed in the New York Times and IHT on May 4, discussing Putin’s annual address to parliament. Noting Putin’s omissions during the speech, Gottemoeller argues that the threat of Russia’s INF withdrawal appears to be abating:

Another issue [Mr. Putin] left unaddressed was the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russian military spokesmen have been threatening to withdraw from this treaty, often as a response to United States missile defenses but sometimes to bring Russian missile deployments in line with those of neighboring countries.

Mr. Putin might have launched another attack on the missile treaty; he might even have announced Russia’s full withdrawal. Instead, he took a swipe at the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty but left the door open for talks to solve a long standoff with NATO, which wants Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova. This can be resolved without dealing a major blow to security in Europe. Not so withdrawal from the missile treaty: here Russia would begin a slide toward ruining the nuclear arms control system put in place in the closing decade of the cold war. This outcome would encourage countries eager to break out of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It would also ensure that Russia could post no claim to leadership in the world of international law and diplomacy.

Mr. Putin had good reason to stay silent on the matter, and the backing to do so. The Russian debate on the treaty is subtly shifting, with new attention to the missiles Russia will really need. Some Russians are arguing that the newest Russian intercontinental ballistic missile, the Topol, is already in production and could easily handle intermediate-range missile tasks as a kind of “universal missile,” while retooling defense plants to produce intermediate-range missiles would be expensive and the missiles could do only limited tasks. Other experts are arguing in favor of modern supersonic cruise missiles, claiming they are cheaper to produce and perfectly capable of responding to intermediate-range threats.

Administration officials (John C. Rood and Daniel Fried) testifying last week on the missile interceptors issue noted “Russian concerns,” but in a rather limited way. Both officials pointed out that the 10 planned interceptors would be no match against Russia’s nuclear forces. Yes, and the Russians understand this. It is not what they are worried about. The concerns voiced here are broader. For example: U.S. missile bases so close to Russia’s borders may be limited now, but what about later when they may serve as a start for further, more threatening installations?

However, as Gottemoeller notes in the op-ed, the administration does seem to be making a good effort at engaging Russia. In the last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as well as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John Rood, traveled to Moscow for discussions on missile defense. Most recently, U.S. and Russia have agreed to hold high-level talks on the missile defense plans. U.S. and Russian foreign and defense ministers are tentatively planning to meet in September.


On a related note, I was looking into the history of the INF, and came across a great 1987 article by Strobe Talbott, The Road to Zero, in Time. It is a fascinating account of the lead up and the blow by blow of negotiations. I highly recommend taking a break from today’s news, blog surfing, and whatever it is that we do at work, to take a look back 20 years.


  1. Steeljaw Scribe (History)

    Some context to the CFE discussion (from an article by Tatyana Stanovaya, chief of the analysis division of the Political Technologies Center: “Russia Adapts the West to the CFE Treaty”):

    We recall that the CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 by NATO countries and Warsaw Pact member nations. It established for each country a limit on numbers of tanks, aircraft, attack helicopters, and artillery systems. In 1999, taking into account NATO expansion and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, an adapted version of the CFE Treaty was drafted which prescribed somewhat less restrictive limits for Russia in the northwest and southern sectors. In exchange, Russia promised at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] summit in Istanbul in autumn of 1999 to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan ratified the modified CFE Treaty. To this day the Western countries have hesitated to do this, citing the premise that Russia has failed to keep its promises with respect to withdrawal of troops from Georgia and Moldova. Russia believes it did in fact fulfill its promises back in 2001. The West believes, however, that the subject under discussion should be a gradual withdrawal of the entire troop contingent, as well as withdrawal of troops from the Dniester Region and the deactivation of two military bases in Georgia—at Vazian and Gudauta.

    Russia has long been trying in vain to convince the NATO countries to ratify the CFE Treaty. Great hopes were placed on the June CFE Treaty conference conducted a year ago. However, the United States expressed its opposition to Russian proposals to confirm the desire of participants to ratify the treaty and agree to place the modified agreement temporarily in effect as of 1 October 2006. In February of this year, then Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov called the situation “a crisis,” and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged that the conflict had reached an impasse. The stationing of air defense elements by the United States in Europe was the last straw, provoking Russia to shift from words to action.

    Putin’s statement on the moratorium elicited serious questions in NATO. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated that the North Atlantic Alliance would demand explanations from Russian President Vladimir Putin with respect to the moratorium on implementation of the CFE Treaty. The Secretary General added that NATO member nations want to ratify the modified version of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) after “Russia fulfills its obligations” (in other words, removes its bases from Georgia and Moldova). Following consultations with Lavrov, the NATO Secretary General stated that Russia’s intentions were received by the alliance “with anxiety, frustration, and regret.” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted that he “understands Sergey Lavrov’s reasoning.” “It is the line of argument we have always discussed in our exchanges and is not new,” the Secretary General stated. He then emphasized that the main divergence between the positions of Moscow and the alliance respecting the CFE Treaty issue is a difference in interpretation of the so-called Istanbul commitments. In essence, this statement defines the conflict around Russia’s political obligations.

    In the meantime, there is no consensus among the NATO countries with respect to evaluating Russia’s actions. Europe is extremely interested in seeing to it that there is no increase in tension between Russia and the United States and is fearful of a new arms race. “As Europeans, we are more interested than others in forestalling increased confrontation between the Russian Federation and the United States. We must urgently put an end to this,” stated Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German minister of foreign affairs. Netherlands Foreign Affairs Minister Maxim Verhagen called Vladimir Putin’s statement “a very hard line” for treaty participants, who “should do everything necessary to effect its ratification.”

    From all appearances, Russia is trying to break out of the vicious circle in which we see endless discussion of interpretations of Russia’s obligations. The central task of the Kremlin right now is to decouple demands for the withdrawal of troops from Moldova and Georgia from the demands for ratification of the modified CFE Treaty. “If we hear that same old song once again about coupling this issue with the problems of removal of military bases from Georgia and Moldova although these questions are not legally related, this will activate the mechanisms President Vladimir Putin was talking about,” Lavrov stated at a press conference in Oslo. The NATO Secretary General, in turn, disagreed with Lavrov’s statement, pointing out that there was in fact a legal link between these two sets of obligations. Russia intends to achieve its objective by dividing Europe on the issue.

    Putin’s statement brings renewed urgency to the subject of the CFE Treaty for the West, which lost interest in it after the collapse of the USSR, unilateral disarmament of Russia, and the expansion of NATO. The moratorium on CFE Treaty implementation presents an opportunity for energizing dialogue with the United States on the air defense issue and ratification of the modified CFE Treaty by NATO countries. It forces the West to choose between the political demands associated with the stationing of Russian bases in territory of the post-Soviet space and the CFE Treaty. Two scenarios appear in this regard: negotiations—albeit prolonged and difficult—aimed at reaching a mutually acceptable solution to the situation that has come about, or the onset of a new arms race and gradual return to a state of military confrontation between Russia and the United States. True, the second scenario is hampered by the fact that Europe is not unified in its vision of a strategy for structuring relations with Russia. We may also assert that following a period of stagnation in the Russia-NATO relationship, a noticeable cooling has now begun.

    Source: Moscow Politkom.ru WWW-Text in Russian—Information site for political commentary created by the independent Political Technologies Center; located at http://www.politcom.ru