So it’s done. The US has suspended its participation in the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and Russia soon followed suit. This almost certainly spells an end to this late Cold War relic, which banned the two superpowers from deploying ground-launched ballistic missiles and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km. There have been recriminations all round. But in the end, so far as two of the world’s three most greatest military Powers are concerned, upholding the INF Treaty could never have been done exactly to the letter.
The US has specified Russia’s Novator 9M729 (NATO designation: SSC-8) as the offending missile that finally prompted US action. Russian nuclear weapons analyst Pavel Podvig has noted that it is very similar to the Russian Navy’s Kalibr-NK cruise missile, which has a range well beyond 500 km and has been touted as a potential “carrier killer”. Podvig goes on to speculate that if the US had observed a test of the 9M729 from a land-based Iskander-M launcher – even if on just a single occasion – then all of them “would have to be eliminated” by the formal terms of the treaty. This is obviously not something that Russia could reasonably be expected to carry out.
Moreover, any number of US missile systems can be considered to be in breach of the INF Treaty. For instance, the Russians have argued that America’s AEGIS Ashore program – a ground-based cruise missile, for all intents and purposes – can also be considered to be in systemic breach of the INF Treaty. Incidentally, this system was itself enabled by America’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia in 2002, under the George W. Bush administration.
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