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Official: Russian Arms Violations Prompt U.S. Weapons Upgrades

  • Mike Eckel

U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller: “This is a serious Russian violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF treaty.”

U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller: “This is a serious Russian violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF treaty.”

WASHINGTON -- A top U.S. arms control official says Washington is investing in and deploying new and updated weapons systems in response to Russia's alleged violation of a key Cold War-era missile treaty and other activity.

The comments by Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, came during a congressional hearing focusing primarily on U.S. allegations that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF.

Russia has denied the accusation, and in turn says that Washington itself is in violation because of aspects of its European antimissile shield -- a claim the United States rejects.

McKeon told the House of Representatives’ Armed Service Committee on December 1 that the new investments were "prudent planning" and said they included new unmanned drone systems, new long-range cruise missiles, long-range bombers, and an updated nuclear gravity bomb called the B61-21.

"Russia is not violating the INF treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior," he said.

"Stated another way, this is not just an arms control issue, but represents a broader challenge to transatlantic security," McKeon said. "Accordingly, we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing investments now that we will make irrespective of Russia’s returning to compliance with the INF treaty."

The 1987 agreement, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, eliminated an entire class of missiles: nearly 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, the majority of them Russian. It was the first treaty to outlaw an entire category of already-deployed weaponry and the first to allow for intrusive on-site inspections.

The deal did not concern sea- or air-launched intermediate-range missiles.

The U.S. State Department formally accused Moscow of violating the treaty in its annual compliance report in 2014, and repeated that in this year’s report.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee that the Russians had begun testing the system in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2011 that there was enough data to conclude it violated the treaty.

She said that U.S. officials continue to be puzzled why Russia would develop the missile system, given that Moscow's arsenal includes other cruise and ballistic missiles of various ranges, fired from ships, aircraft, or trucks.

“We have made very clear this is not a technicality, a one-off event, or a case of mistaken identity,” she said. “This is a serious Russian violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF treaty.”

In lodging its own accusations against Washington, Moscow has pointed to U.S. weapons and missile defense systems that are being deployed to Europe, such as advanced Aegis missile radar technology.

Russia’s military deployment to Syria — its largest outside the former Soviet Union since the 1980s — has grabbed the attention of defense experts, watching for new weapons systems and tactics. The launch of cruise missiles on Syria targets from Russian naval ships in early October prompted more speculation about the nature of the INF-violating weapon.

Some arms control experts have looked closely at another weapon system, long in use by Russian forces, called Iskander, and a missile known as the 9M729. Experts said if that particular missile is indeed the one in violation of the INF, it would be indistinguishable from other short-range missiles, and INF treaty rules might then require the elimination of the entire launch system -- something the Russians would never agree to.

On October 31, NATO’s top military commander, General Philip Breedlove, announced that Russia had conducted another test of the banned missile system in early September.

And, in an interview with RFE/RL in the same month, Gottemoeller was emphatic that U.S. intelligence has not misidentified the Russian weapon system.

“We are talking about a missile that has been flight-tested as a ground-launched cruise-missile system to these ranges that are banned under this treaty,” she said.