Both the United States and Russia suspended their adherence to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) earlier this month; each could formally withdraw from the treaty six months after announcing suspension. The treaty’s impending demise has given rise to an impressive series of arguments for saving it.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary who signed the 1987 pact on behalf of the Soviet Union, contended that although the world has undergone major changes since then, the agreement has not become outdated, but indispensable. “The subsequent changes in the world require not that we abandon the treaty—that laid the foundations of international security after the end of the Cold War—but that we take further steps towards the ultimate goal: The elimination of nuclear weapons,” Gorbachev wrote in the Moscow Times.
In comments on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, meanwhile, former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz suggested that if the United States and Russia agreed to mutual inspections of systems suspected of violating the INF, the treaty could be saved. “Frankly, the Russians I’ve spoken with said, ‘All we have to do is have mutual inspections,’ because they also have an issue, with Aegis ashore and its programmability for treaty-violating missiles,” Moniz told Defense News.
The Aegis ashore missile defense systems Moniz referenced are at the heart of a recent Bulletin article by MIT missile expert Ted Postol, who contended those systems are essentially useless in terms of shooting down ballistic missiles but are capable of firing US cruise missiles. Because these Aegis systems are located in Eastern Europe and close to Russia, those offensive capabilities are rightly worrying to Russia and must be acknowledged, Postol argued, if the INF is to be saved.
Postol expanded on that argument today in the New York Times, explaining the dire consequences that will flow, if the INF ends and a nuclear-armed cruise missile race ensues. The Postol warning is clear:
“Consider this: Modern nuclear-armed cruise missiles will be far more fearsome than those that were banned when the INF Treaty was signed in 1987. Advances in computer electronics and guidance technologies have produced conventionally armed cruise missiles that can be commanded to change their routes and targets in flight and loiter to attack at a programmed time.
“With such capabilities, cruise missiles could be launched from many locations at once and could be detonated on numerous targets at once. The warning available would at best be ambiguous, no different from sensing the presence of shadows in a dark forest.
“These terrifying new capabilities on both sides would substantially escalate the chances of a catastrophic accidental use of nuclear weapons during some as yet unforeseen crisis.”