Missile Misdemeanours: Russia and the INF Treaty Contents

2The INF Treaty


6.The Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (commonly known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces or INF Treaty) was signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in Washington DC on 8 December 1987. The Treaty arose as a result of the situation in Europe in the later phases of the Cold War. In the mid-1970s the Soviet Union began deploying a new type of nuclear-capable missile that was designated by NATO as the SS-20 ‘Saber’. The SS-20 was an intermediate-range ballistic missile which incorporated several features distinguishing it from previous missiles deployed by Soviet forces.

7.The sum of these new Soviet capabilities had the potential to destabilise seriously the military and the political balance in Europe. The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies already enjoyed considerable superiority over NATO in conventional military forces on the Continent. The defence of Europe, then as now, could be credibly guaranteed only by the continuing commitment of the United States to protect it. In the 1970s, it was the concern of the European members of NATO about the continuing credibility of this commitment that led NATO to respond to the SS-20 deployments. These concerns were encapsulated in the speech of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt at a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London in 1977. Schmidt’s principal concern was the danger that the North American and European groups in NATO could become ‘decoupled’. A system such as the SS-20 could not reach the continental United States, but had the range and the accuracy to threaten of European NATO members in general, and their military infrastructure in particular. NATO had no corresponding capability deployed in Europe to respond to this threat, apart from the prospect of escalation by recourse to strategic nuclear weapons. There was a concern amongst European NATO members that the US might not risk the threat of a general strategic nuclear exchange and the devastation to the continental United States that would follow, in order to save Europe from a limited—but militarily decisive—SS-20 attack. As Dr Jeremy Stocker, Associate Fellow at RUSI told us:

It was the latest iteration of the perennial problem, “Would an American President risk Washington for the sake of Paris, London or Bonn?” The new SS-20 capability gave added impetus to that long-standing concern.4

Furthermore, there was also the danger that, even if the US would employ ICBMs to respond to such an attack, the Russians might wrongly discount this possibility—finding out their fatal mistake only when it was too late for all concerned.

8.NATO’s reaction, which became known as the ‘Dual Track’ or ‘Twin Track’ policy, was designed to frustrate the Soviet attempt to divide NATO and provide a modernised capability to counter the new missile threat. From its agreement in NATO in December 1979, the Dual Track approach sought to link a deployment track with an arms control track.

9.The deployment track centred on the modernisation of NATO’s short and medium range missile systems, with the deployment of 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) between 1983 and 1986. The weapons would be owned and controlled by the United States, but would be deployed in the territory of five NATO allies: Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany and the United Kingdom. The UK’s share of this contribution was to be 160 GLCMs, based at RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth. At the same time the arms control track would proceed and negotiations were opened with the USSR to impose limits on intermediate-range missiles.5 On 18 November, 1981, President Reagan put forward his ‘zero option’ offer, according to which US GLCMs and Pershing II missiles would not be deployed, in return for the elimination of the SS-20s and their SS-4 and SS-5 predecessors. This was flatly rejected by the Soviet leadership, which resulted in NATO deploying its INF on schedule from 1983 onwards, despite unprecedented levels of protest by anti-nuclear organisations in the NATO countries concerned. After several years of negotiations, which only began to make genuine progress once Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR, the zero option became the basis of the final agreement. The Treaty was signed in December 1987 and entered into force on 1 June 1988.6

10.A number of witnesses underlined the significance of the Dual Track approach and that its success lay in the linkage between the deployment and arms control aspects. Dr Heather Williams, Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London emphasised in oral evidence the effectiveness of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach which the Dual Track represented and the potential applicability of the same principles today.7 On the question of whether there would have been a prospect of reaching an agreement without US missile deployments, Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace at IISS thought that:

… it is a bit crystal ball gazing. There may have been other options that could have been pursued that were not … There are lots of ways to try to incentivise somebody’s behaviour. You do not necessarily have to do it with missiles all the time.8

11.By contrast, both Dr Stocker9 and Frank Miller, a retired senior US government official who was involved in a number of aspects of policy relating to the original Treaty, thought that the pressure brought by the deployment track was decisive in a final agreement being reached. When asked whether there would have been an INF Treaty without these deployments Mr Miller responded “Absolutely not”. He described how the KGB had overestimated the level of public opposition to the deployments within NATO and the Soviet military underestimated the danger that the Pershing II missiles could pose to Moscow and its surrounding infrastructure in the event of a war. Once the military threat posed by the US deployments became clear, the USSR returned to serious negotiations. According to Mr Miller:

Without the counter-deployments of ground-launched cruise missiles, especially Pershing II, there would have been no INF treaty.10

12.Witnesses noted that there were elements of the Soviet leadership who realised, or came to realise, that the deployment of the SS-20 in this escalatory manner had been a mistake, and one that reduced rather than increased their own national security. Mr Barrie gave the example of Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, Soviet Chief of the General Staff between 1977 and 1984, who believed that it would be unrealistic to attempt to control a nuclear exchange so that it could be confined to Europe.11 If this could not be done then the North American and European parts of NATO could not realistically be decoupled, as once nuclear weapons were used in Europe an intercontinental strategic exchange with the US was likely to become inevitable. Writing in 1995, former President Gorbachev denounced the original SS-20 deployment as a “dangerous venture” and declared that the Soviet leadership at the time had miscalculated the robust response from NATO:

It was Soviet Defence Minister Ustinov who had suggested to Brezhnev replacing the missiles based in the European part of the Soviet Union. But it was not merely a question of replacing ‘obsolete’ equipment. Technological progress allowed the creation of SS-20 missiles far superior to their predecessors in terms of range, precision, guidance and all other properties. Essentially they had the characteristics of strategic weapons. Whatever the arguments advanced at the time to justify the deployment of such missiles, the Soviet leadership failed to take into account the probable reaction of the Western countries. I would even go so far as to characterise it as an unforgivable adventure, embarked on by the previous Soviet leadership under pressure from the military-industrial complex. They might have assumed that, while we deployed our missiles, Western counter-measures would be impeded by the peace movement. If so, such a calculation was more than naive.12

Again, it was only when it became clear in the minds of the Soviet political and military leadership that the risks they were running outweighed any advantage that an agreement based on the zero option was taken seriously.

13.The Soviet decision to introduce a new generation of intermediate-range missiles into Europe in the mid-1970s disrupted the continental balance of power. The central aim was to create military advantage for the Warsaw Pact and to sow political division within NATO. The resulting Dual Track policy adopted by NATO was highly effective, cementing the unity of the Alliance and presenting a robust response to the Soviet challenge. The dual nature of the response was crucial: diplomatic attempts alone would not have brought resolution. Only by a demonstration of hard power alongside continual diplomatic overtures was NATO able to make it clear to the Soviet leadership that the USSR’s own vital interests were being put at risk by NATO’s response and that a level of competition had been introduced which the Soviet Union could not sustain. Today, although the situation in Europe is very different, the example of the past is instructive. NATO needs to formulate a united response to the challenge posed by the leadership of the Russian Federation.

Treaty provisions

14.The INF Treaty prohibited all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 km and 5,500km (c. 300 and 3,400 miles), and required the elimination of US and Soviet missile systems and their launchers meeting these criteria within three years of the Treaty entering into force. The means of calculating missile range in the Treaty differs between ballistic and cruise missiles. The range of a ballistic missile is determined to be “the maximum range to which it has been tested”, whereas the range of a cruise missile is described as “the maximum distance which can be covered by the missile in its standard design mode flying until fuel exhaustion, determined by projecting its flight path onto the earth’s sphere from the point of launch to the point of impact”.13 The Treaty also places tight restrictions on the future testing and development of missiles and their launchers. Under these terms the USSR destroyed 1,846 missiles (mostly SS-4, SS-5, SS-20 and SS-23s missiles) and the USA destroyed 846 (mostly Pershing IIs and Gryphon GLCMs).14

15.The Treaty only applies to ground-launched missile systems that fall within the range categories. No restrictions are imposed on missiles that are air-launched (launched from aircraft) or sea-launched (launched from surface ships or submarines). No distinction is made between nuclear-capable and conventional missiles, it applies to any ground-launched missile fulfilling the range criteria which are ‘weapon delivery vehicles’. There are no geographical restrictions on the Treaty: its provisions apply worldwide.

16.The obligations in the Treaty were supported by a rigorous system of monitoring and verification to supervise the elimination of prohibited missiles and ensure ongoing compliance by both parties.15 This included the creation of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centres to co-ordinate on-site inspections at declared missile testing, manufacture and storage centres. Comprehensive data exchange and continuous monitoring of missile assembly facilities were also part of this regime. The Treaty however limited these provisions to ten years following the end of the elimination period, and they concluded in 2001. A Special Verification Commission (SVC) was also created by the Treaty as a forum for the parties to resolve any questions relating to compliance and ongoing obligations. The SVC meets at the request of either party.16 We heard some compelling evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the importance of ongoing verification in arms control treaties. Ben Fender, Head of the Security Policy Department in the Defence and International Security Directorate at the FCO said:

the collapse of the INF, if that is where we end up, surely underlines the crucial importance of verification of treaties. In terms of what the UK has been working on in an NPT [the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] context, we have been one of the leaders, as you will know, in trying to work out what verification would look like in a nuclear disarmament context; I am sure that we will be briefing on that at the next [NPT] review conference. I know it is a slightly indirect connection, but I think it shows the value of that, because if there were ever progress in that direction, verification would be a critical element of it. That is very much a lesson of the INF scenario.17

17.The terms of the INF Treaty were far-reaching in that global prohibitions were placed on the parties in respect of an entire class of weapons. Thousands of missiles were destroyed and tight restrictions were placed on future development and deployment. A thorough system of monitoring and verification was also created. One flaw in these verification provisions was their time-limited nature, allowing for the opportunity of non-compliance once on-site inspections ceased in 2001. The value of ongoing verification provisions in arms control agreements has been demonstrated by the fate of the INF Treaty.

3 Q2–7; Q64–65. See also Congressional Research Service, Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress, updated 8 February 2019

4 Q2

5 Q2; Q64

7 Q7; Q27

8 Q3–4

9 Q3

10 Q66

11 Q6

12 Mikhail Gorbachev: Memoirs, (1995 -- English translation: Doubleday, London, 1996), p443

14 U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Insight IN10985, Congressional Research Service, 1 February 2019

15 Dr Wyn Rees and Azriel Bermant (INF0006)

17 Q145

Published: 4 April 2019