Somewhere around 2009, analysts believe, Vladimir Putin decided he needed a hole card to backstop Russia in its military competition with the United States in the crucial area of intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles.
Officially, there was no competition. The INF treaty signed in 1987 by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev put strict limits on the number and capabilities of intermediate range nuclear forces. But the Russians claimed the U.S. was openly cheating by refining its drone capabilities and planting an Aegis Ashore anti-missile system in Romania, so they secretly started developing the SSC-8/9M729 missile, a first-strike weapon that broke most of the rules of the INF.
The Russian secrecy was soon penetrated by American intelligence and for three years, the Obama Administration tried and failed to get Putin to abandon the program.
2017: enter President Donald Trump and the Russians take a significant step. They move their missile program from development to deployment. Trump cited this when he refused to renew the INF Treaty, and NATO backed him up.
So, the INF Treaty is dead and it isn’t coming back. Now what? For the Trump Administration, the priority of negotiating a replacement for INF ranks far behind bulking up American missile forces long restrained by those treaty obligations. There are plans for new missiles and new deployments to match not just Russian but Chinese missile forces. China was never part of the INF, and ignored its limits in building its own formidable mid-range missile arsenal.
All of which has become the predicate for a renewal, now as a three-handed game, of the old Cold War arms race.
Here are three questions I want to raise:
1) Where is this arms race headed beyond confronting rivals in Moscow and Beijing?
2) What are the new weapons under consideration and how might they change the games of warfare and non-military competition?
3) Where is the finish line? How is this competition supposed to come to a happy ending?
Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of the new book Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s International Security Advisory Board.
His commentary has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Financial Times, Kyodo News, Moscow Times, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Daily Beast, and Huffington Post. He has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, PBS, MSNBC, Fox News, BBC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera.
Cirincione worked for nine years in the US House of Representatives on the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations. He is the author of hundreds of articles on nuclear weapons issues, the producer of two DVDs, a frequent commentator in the media, and he appeared in the films, Countdown to Zero and Why We Fight. He previously served as Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress and Director for Nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has held positions at the Henry L. Stimson Center, the US Information Agency and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He teaches at the graduate School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.