In a rare show of support to the Trump administration, NATO has accused Russia of breaching a Cold War-era nuclear missile treaty. In a high-level meeting of NATO officials in Brussels, the 29 foreign ministers of the transatlantic alliance voiced their concerns with Moscow’s development of medium-range nuclear missiles.
According to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), medium-range cruise missiles that could be used to strike either Europe or Alaska are forbidden. Last year, however, the State Department issued a report that indicated that Russia was violating the treaty obligations. The investigation, in particular, found two violations: first, that the Russian military was developing a medium-range missile, with an operational range of 500-5,000 kilometres (310-3,400 miles); and second, that it was manufacturing launchers that could be used to propel the missiles. More specifically, the U.S. and NATO are concerned with the ground-based Novator 9M729 cruise missile, which is currently under development and seems to be violating the treaty’s provisions and thus proving to be a security risk to the geopolitical balance.
In a joint statement, the NATO foreign ministers stated that they “strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations [and] to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance.” The NATO officials added that the survival of the INF Treaty depends solely on Russia’s compliance with the signed provisions.
Concerns about Moscow’s violations, however, precede the Trump administration. According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, since 2013 the U.S. has on more than 30 occasions warned, through various political, diplomatic, and military channels, the Russian government of its illegal behaviour. Pompeo said, “Russia’s reply has been consistent: deny any wrongdoing, demand more information, and issue baseless counter-accusations.” He noted, moreover, that a failure to comply with the Treaty’s obligations would produce consequences.
The British Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, said during a parliamentary inquiry about Russia’s possible treaty violation, “My view is that Russia is in breach of the treaty with the deployment of some of its systems which break the 500 to 5,000-kilometre range. And I am in no doubt that we need to call them out on that breach.”
Russia has been pursuing an aggressive proactive foreign policy. Whenever it suits it, the Kremlin ignores international norms, organisations, and treaties. Such a strategy poses a dilemma to Western leaders: if they respond in kind and begin ignoring international treaties or organisations, then those treaties or organisations become impotent. And since the end of the Second World War, the West has focused its geopolitical strategy around such international norms. For example, the U.S. couldn’t ignore the INF, but cite the Hague international court of maritime law to defend its South China Sea position. Foreign policy doesn’t function in a vacuum. Decisions on one front are bound to affect another.
A few months ago, the Trump administration had threatened to destroy the illegal program if Russian didn’t cease it immediately. Moscow now has 60 days to comply. It is still unclear what will be the consequences be if it doesn’t. Most probably, it will impose yet another wave of economic sanctions on Russia and start developing its own middle-range capabilities.