Russia may have violated the INF Treaty. Here’s how the United States appears to have done the same.
(Bulletin of Atomic Scientists) On September 17, 2009 President Obama and his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, announced a new approach to US missile defense in Europe, the Aegis-based European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). This approach was to replace the Bush administration’s plan for a Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) site in Poland with what Obama described as a “smarter and swifter” defense system. The Polish installation (along with a similar site in Romania) would replace the proposed installation of GMD interceptors with a larger number of much smaller and slower interceptors, guided by Aegis radars normally used on US Navy warships.
This political decision to finesse one bad missile defense idea with another has helped create a crisis with Russia over the future of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Trump administration announced its suspension of the treaty last week, alleging (as did the Obama administration) that the Russians have violated it by developing a cruise missile that appears to breach the clear limitations on weapons ranges established by the INF. The Russian government responded by also suspending its adherence to the treaty; it has long claimed that United States missile defense installations in Eastern Europe violate the treaty.
If no agreement on the INF is reached, both countries could formally withdraw from the pact in six months.
The Western press has often treated the Russian claim that US missile defense installations have an offensive capability as rhetorical obfuscation. But publicly available information makes it clear that the US Aegis-based systems in Eastern Europe, if equipped with cruise missiles, would indeed violate the INF. The Obama administration’s internal deliberations on the decision to place Aegis-based missile defenses in Poland and Romania have not been reported in the press. Neither has the precise advice Defense Department advisers gave the president and his policy staff on the capabilities of the Aegis system. I therefore cannot say with certainty whether the Obama administration knew that, with the Aegis-ashore program, it was installing a weapons system in Eastern Europe with offensive capabilities that violated US treaty obligations..
A cruise missile emerging from a Vertical Launch System box.