ool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …”
We’re all familiar with that old saying. But what do they say about fool me thrice?
That’s exactly what Russia has done: violating the IntermediateRange Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty three times over.
In the late 1980s, the INF Treaty between the U.S. and the USSR eliminated intermediate-range ballistic missiles from the two superpowers’ arsenals. The ban applied to conventional and nuclear ground-launched ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, as well as their launchers.
The idea was to make for a more stable, secure Europe. But obligations established by treaties don’t always last forever.
Russia reportedly first violated the INF Treaty in 2008, when it tested a missile with a prohibited range. It is not clear when the U.S. learned of the violation — whether it was during the Bush or the Obama administration — but it should have surprised no one. Russia has violated almost every single arms control agreement it has signed.
But the Obama administration, at least in its early days, would have had little interest in squawking about the violation. It was busy negotiating a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Moscow. Publicizing Russia’s flouting of the INF Treaty would hardly make New START ratification any easier.
The State Department never officially accused Russia of the INF Treaty violations until July 2014, about six years after the initial problematic test.
Since then, Moscow has systematically escalated its violations, moving from testing to producing to now deploying the prohibited missile into the field. The obvious goal is to intimidate our European allies and demonstrate U.S. political weakness in the face of these continuing violations.
The Obama administration’s rather measly objections to the Russian violations failed to make any tangible difference in Moscow’s calculus. Moscow simply produced its own counteraccusations, arguing that U.S. missile defense systems and armed drones violate the INF Treaty. (They don’t.)
So the question remains: What