Three ranking members on key congressional national security committees, along with eight other committee members, raised troubling issues in a letter addressing the Biden administration’s soft stance on ground-based intermediate-range missile talks with Russia. The Feb. 10 letter called attention to “a deeply troubling joint statement on February 4″ in which Russia and China called on the United States to “abandon its plans to deploy intermediate-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles in the Asia Pacific region and Europe.” As the missive explained, this demand is not the first time America’s adversaries have raised the subject.
What most concerns the authors is the indication Biden’s Department of State might be considering renegotiating the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement with Russia. Congressional leaders underpin this concern by quoting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who offered: “The Russians addressed the concerns that we had that led to the ultimate demise of the [INF] treaty…that is something worth considering and seeing whether, in fact, reciprocal actions can be taken that increase our security.” So that we are clear, the State Department wants to explore with the Russians (not the Chinese) reopening INF talks where the U.S. will naturally give up something critical to its national security. As the letter states:
“We are gravely concerned that any attempt to resurrect the INF Treaty or reimpose limitations on ground-launched missiles would catastrophically undermine American national security, encourage Russian aggression, and advance a flawed view of security that sacrifices peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
The Trump administration withdrew from the original INF Treaty in August 2019 because Russia was in “material breach” of the terms and had been since 2014. The missiles prohibited under the INF are capable of ranges between 540 nm (nautical miles) and nearly 3,000 nm. The Kremlin had developed and fielded the 9M729 Ground-Launched Cruise Missile in direct violation of the 1987 treaty. Michael Gordon reported for The New York Times in 2017 that the Russians had two battalions of these prohibited cruise missiles. By the time Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2019, there were believed to be four.
What is most troubling about the State Department opening the door to negotiating another INF treaty is what the Biden administration might give up and how the concession would impact current U.S. Marine Corps and Army ground-based missile programs. Those programs are designed to deter aggression in the Indo-Pacific. As Defense News explains, “China’s military has fielded short-, medium- and intermediate-range conventional systems capable of holding U.S. and allied bases in the Pacific region at risk.”
However, despite Beijing’s willingness to pile on with the Joint Russia-China statement, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not participating in the U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue. On a first-principles basis, what earthly good would negotiations be without the seminal threat in the Pacific – the PRC? One of the critical questions raised in the letter from Congress is: “[H]ave you asked the People’s Republic of China to join these negotiations?” Without a Beijing agreement, any INF treaty would be meaningless.
Consequently, the U.S.’s ground-based cruise missiles under development are critical to deterring the Chinese in the Pacific – and Russia with its forces poised to invade Ukraine. Moscow has already suggested that intermediate-range missiles should be an issue for negotiations in the de-escalation of tensions over Ukraine. Putin’s officials have indicated Russia would remove its missiles if the West removed theirs. The problem with that offer is the U.S. does not have intermediate-range missiles in Europe. But we could. It’s an option. It is to that very point Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a signer of the congressional letter, alluded:
“In light of the looming Russian aggression in Ukraine and its sustained record of breaching its treaty obligations, it is insane the Biden administration is even considering negotiating new restrictions on ground-launched missiles. The administration must reverse course before it sacrifices peace in Asia upon the altar of appeasement in Europe.”
Liberty Nation’s readers know the Biden administration gives away negotiating leverage before it’s even on the table. For example, when Russia requested a one-year extension on the existing Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Biden gave the Kremlin five years without concessions from Putin. How savvy is that? So, here America is again with its national security future in the hands of an administration not known for being tough at the negotiating table. Let’s hope President Biden takes the congressional delegation’s letter seriously.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.