GOP Sponsors of Bill to Force Arms-Control Treaty Compliance Say U.S. Won't Be 'Played by Putin’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 17, 2017 | 4:35 AM EST

Then-President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in 2014. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Presidential Press Service)

(CNSNews.com) – A group of Republican lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday designed to compel Russia to resume compliance with a key arms-control treaty, saying the U.S. would no longer be “played” by a Russian leader who had been “emboldened” by the policies of the previous administration.

Should President Vladimir Putin fail to return to compliance with the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the legislation would allow the U.S. to develop new intermediate-range missiles itself.

The action follows a New York Times report saying that Russia has secretly deployed a new nuclear-capable intermediate-range cruise missile, the SSC-8, in apparent violation of the 1987 treaty.

“If Russia is going to test and deploy intermediate range cruise missiles, then logic dictates that we respond,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who introduced the bill with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).

“Pleading with the Russian regime to uphold its treaty obligations won’t bring it into compliance, but strengthening our nuclear forces in Europe very well might,” Cotton said. “We’re offering this legislation so we can finally put clear, firm boundaries on Russia’s unchecked aggression.”

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who together with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) introduced companion legislation in the House, said while the U.S. has complied with the treaty, the Russians have for years violated it with impunity.

“This bill changes that. It brings real consequences for Russia’s violation and prepares the United States to develop intermediate range missiles should Russia not come back into compliance with the treaty,” Poe said. “No longer will the U.S. sit by and be played by Putin.”

Rogers said that “the Obama administration’s failure to confront Russian aggression in practically every sphere has only emboldened Vladimir Putin.”

“This legislation will give President Trump the tools he needs to show our friends and adversaries alike that ‘peace through strength’ is back,” Rogers added.

(President’s Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine was appropriated by President Trump during his election campaign and features prominently in his “America first” foreign policy approach.)

Reacting earlier this week to reports of the Russian violation, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested that Putin was “testing” Trump.

The INF required the U.S. and Soviet Union to destroy ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (roughly 300-3,400 miles) within three years of its June 1988 entry into force. (Almost 2,700 were destroyed, including Soviet SS-20s and American Pershing IIs.)

Possession of such weapons are prohibited under the treaty – which applies to the U.S., Russia, and 11 other former Soviet successor states.

A Russian INF-class weapon would not pose a direct threat to the U.S., but could deliver a nuclear or conventional strike against NATO allies near Russian territory including Kaliningrad, the small exclave located between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea.

After years of suspected Russian breaches, the Obama administration in an annual report in 2014 accused Moscow of violating the INF treaty’s prohibition on possessing, producing or flight-testing a ground-launched cruise missile, but gave no details. (The allegation was repeated in the 2015 and 2016 reports.)

President Obama in July 2014 sent a formal letter to Putin, although no punitive steps ensued.

Almost two years later, a senior Pentagon official told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Russia is making significant investments in cruise missiles, including a cruise missile that violates” the INF.

Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Brian McKeon said the Pentagon in response was “developing and implementing a strategy to address Russian military actions that includes modifying and expanding air defense systems to deny Russia offensive capabilities.”

Russia denies U.S. accusations that it is violating the INF treaty, while accusing the U.S. of doing so by developing ballistic missile defense systems in Europe – specifically Aegis Ashore launchers deployed in Romania. (The Pentagon says the system complies with the INF treaty, and is designed to protect U.S. troops and allies against the threat of missiles launched by Iran, not Russia.)

Neither economic nor military consequences

The legislation introduced on Thursday includes measures aimed at compelling Russia to comply with the treaty, including developing counterforce capabilities to prevent INF-class missile attacks and active defense to defend against them; and establishing a program for a road-mobile, ground-launched missile system in the INF range.

Poe and Rogers, who respectively chair the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade and the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, say they tried since 2014 to compel the Obama administration to confront Russia’s INF violation.

“To date, the Russian Federation has been confronted neither with economic nor military consequences by the Obama administration for violation of the INF treaty nor any other arms control agreement,” the two said in a joint statement early last month.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017, signed into law by Obama in December, includes provisions originally authored by Poe and Rogers requiring sanctions against entities involved in arms control violations.

Since the end of the Cold War several countries not bound by the INF Treaty have been developing missiles in or near the intermediate range, including China, Pakistan, India, North Korea and Iran.

During a public dialogue forum last October, Putin suggested that Russia faced a bigger threat than the U.S. as a result of those developments.

He pointed out that some of those countries are close to Russian territory, “whereas none of the countries sharing borders with the United States, neither Canada nor Mexico, manufacture such weapons.”

Russia and the U.S. have both expressed support over the years for “multilateralizing” the INF treaty, but have not taken steps towards doing so.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow