Experts in the United States have taken note of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s (RMFA) claims regarding “the main problems” with implementation of 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, together with its Memorandum of Understanding and two Protocols, collectively referred to as the INF Treaty, signed at Washington on December 8, 1987, and which entered into force on June 1, 1988.

RMFA specifically states that:

 [W]e have a lot of claims to the United States in the context of the Treaty.  These are tests of target-missiles of missile defence, which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles, production of armed drones by the  Americans, which evidently are covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty. The topic of Mk-41 launch systems, which the United States intend to deploy in Poland and Romania within the framework of the implementation of their “stage-by-stage adaptive approach” to the deployment of a global missile defence, has been quite topical lately.  These launch systems can launch intermediate-range cruise missiles, but their ground-launched version can be perceived as a direct violation of the INF Treaty.

Leaving aside RMFA’s tone, style and indecorous language preceding these partial charges, the only reason RMFA has made public allegations of U.S. violation(s) of the INF Treaty is that the United States has made a public finding that the Russian Federation violated its ban on launches of any ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) of a range banned by the Treaty and that can be a weapon-delivery vehicle.  Moscow has previously raised similar issues in the past, to no result.  Assertion of U.S. violation(s) is not a defense against the specific claim made by the United States in respect of Russia’s GLCM launch and violation, for which RMFA has had no public response, to date.

Regarding the three RMFA claims of U.S. violations of the INF Treaty, please see the following responses:

[T]ests of target-missiles of missile defense, which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles [.]

This issue has been raised repeatedly for as many years as the United States has been launching targets for its Pacific Test Bed from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  It is unclear why, then, in the context of the New START Treaty, specifically under paragraph (3) of Article V of the New START Treaty, Russian negotiators agreed to exclude five silos converted to target vehicle launchers for that treaty’s ban on offense-defense fixed silo launcher conversion, and vice versa.  If severe concern existed at the time, as is evidently and retrospectively declared in RMFA’s press statement, it is thus hard to understand Russian claims made now that, apparently, test launches of target vehicles, generally, are violations of the INF Treaty.  Should Moscow wished to have banned all such tests from any fixed, land-based silo launcher on the pretext of an INF Treaty violation, why did it agree to grandfather already converted silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base?

Further, paragraph (3) of Article VII of the INF Treaty specifically provides, in full, that “If a [ground-launched ballistic missile] is of a type developed and tested solely to intercept objects not located on the surface of the earth, it shall not be considered to be a missile to which the limitations of this treaty apply.”   RMFA may claim that because missile stages used as target vehicles were formerly accountable under START I, when fully assembled, that they can be equipped and fired with nuclear armament, presumably at a range shorter than 5,500 kilometers, and since clearly any missile defense interceptor missile used to strike a target vehicle cannot be limited by Article VII.3 of the INF Treaty.  However, U.S. missile defense tests, to date, have been transparent, and the United States has gone to great lengths to demonstrate to Moscow that its claims are spurious.  While any stage or stages of a missile formerly accountable as a stage or stages of a type of missile accountable as a strategic offensive arm (SOA) were not developed specifically for use as a target vehicle, their continued elimination in this manner is permissible and well within the bounds of residual, non-binding limitations pertaining to each.  None of these formerly accountable SOA stages are used in any offensive nuclear weapon-delivery system in the United States, nor are they interchanged with any SOA.  The United States does not possess and has not possessed any such program, unlike the USSR/Russia, which did interchange the first stage of its SS-25 SOA with the INF-banned SS-20, and was the only permissible exception contained in the INF Treaty, and necessitated the use of portal-perimeter continuous monitoring (PPCM), which is no longer undertaken in either the Russian Federation or in the United States by either side.  Russia had the option argue for continued PPCM in the New START Treaty, even after the United States indicated it no longer wished to continue it.  Russia also may use its quota of inspection/exhibitions under New START to confirm the non-deployed status of any fixed ICBM silo in the United States converted to launch missile defense target vehicles, at least one of which it has already undertaken in 2013.

Further, RMFA’s public comment does not include specific reference to the “similar characteristics” shared by declared, eliminated and banned U.S. INF-range weapon-delivery missiles and any target vehicle used in missile defense tests.  Should Moscow wish to further articulate these characteristics, the United States would be much obliged.

Simultaneously, however, Moscow must also provide a complete, full and consistent declaration as to the characteristics of all ground-launched cruise missiles implicated in the U.S. noncompliance finding it may possess, in a manner identical to the requirements contained in the Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of the Database for the INF Treaty, to include any launchers and support equipment, deployment areas and all other required information.  Moscow must undertake to provide the United States with this information, posthaste.  If it is Moscow’s position that it has tested, but not deployed the banned GLCM, then, in in a manner similar to the requirements of Section V of the INF MOU for all intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles that were tested prior to the entry into force of the INF Treaty but never deployed and that were not existing types of intermediate-range or shorter-range missiles listed in Article III of the Treaty, Moscow shall provide identical information, should it admit its violation with respect to the banned GLCM, for the banned missile it has today.  This shall include the numbers of all such missiles and of all launchers of such missiles and which should be listed by the missile support facility at which such items are located.  The location of each missile support facility must also be provided, including site diagrams.

[P]roduction of armed drones by the Americans, which evidently are covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty.

No specific type of “armed drone” is recorded in RMFA’s statement.  Presumably, reference is made to types of U.S.-produced unmanned aerial vehicles capable of aerodynamic flight over the majority of their flight path within a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and which is the rough definition of a GLCM contained in paragraph (2) of Article II of the INF Treaty.  The United States has made every effort in the context of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to ensure that unmanned systems do not contribute to the proliferation of cruise and ballistic missile technology.  Several Russian sales of various systems have been problematic for these efforts; in particular, its sales of Iskander-E to states like Syria.  Additionally, while exclusively conventionally-armed U.S. unmanned aerial systems are now common in and among our Allies, there is no evidence provided by Moscow proving that any of them are “weapon-delivery vehicles” as the term is used in the INF Treaty.  There is no allegation in the RMFA statement concerning whether or not any unnamed unmanned system has been flight-tested or deployed for weapon-delivery, and thus even if a U.S. unmanned system is launched from land, it does not meet the other tests imposed under the INF Treaty that would render any such system subject to and constitute a violation of the INF Treaty.

Additionally, official Moscow has had no comment on sales of the Club-K Container Missile System, marketing data for which appear to advertise an ability to covertly conceal a cruise missile of shorter-range in and among common commercial freight deliveries, to include marketing of the systems with an unmanned drone or satellite support to guide the Club-K to targets, and includes launches from rail- and road-mobile freight containers/launchers on land, for which such launchers are specifically designed, and from which the Club-K strikes targets located on the surface of the earth.  Flight characteristics and range capabilities are difficult to determine based on publicly available data for the Club-K.

“[The] Mk-41 launch systems, which the United States intend to deploy in Poland and Romania within the framework of the implementation of their ‘stage-by-stage adaptive approach’ to the deployment of a global missile defence.”

The United States publicly announced the first launch of an SM-3 Block IB from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (Mk 41 VLS) from Hawaii early this year at the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex (AAMDTC). To date, Russia has not publicly disclosed the date or dates of its launch of any GLCM, which may bear directly on Russian compliance with its binding obligation not to fire any such system in the INF Treaty.  Again, per previously cited text contained within the INF Treaty, a U.S. VLS launcher deployed on land, the exclusive purpose of which is to fire an intercepting missile at an object not located on the surface of the earth, and which is not developed or designed to launch any weapon-delivery vehicle as that term is used in the INF Treaty, does not appear to be a prima facie violation of the INF Treaty.  Furthermore, the United States has offered on a continued basis cooperation with the Russian Federation in the area of missile defense, since at least 2004 under the previous U.S. President.  At each stage, it has been rebuffed with demands for more information that would compromise the military effectiveness of the systems in question or constitute informal limitations on the range, speed, number and location of such defenses, which the United States cannot and will not accept.

It is also wholly unclear whether a VLS based on land would constitute a fixed launcher for a ground-launched ballistic missile (GLBM launcher) under paragraph (3) of Article II of the INF Treaty.  In addition,  paragraph (7) of Artice II states, in full, that “If a launcher has been tested for launching a GLBM or a GLCM, all launchers of that type shall be considered to have been tested for launching GLBMs or GLCMs.”  While sea-based, the VLS can host a variety of missiles, depending on the deployed missile canister.  Certain software changes can also modify the VLS at sea.  However, the VLS deployed in Poland and Romania will not house any missile other than the Raytheon Standard Missile Three, which is of a type of missile developed and tested solely to intercept objects not located on the surface of the earth.

Lastly, as was repeatedly noted to Moscow since 2009, regional, adaptive U.S. missile defenses in NATO pose no threat to the SOA of the Russian Federation, and are not part of a global missile defense system.  However, Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is highly likely to result in reexamination of American plans to cancel certain aspects of its Phased and Adaptive Approach to missile defenses, least not in the U.S. Congress, but equally within the U.S. Government as a whole, to include taking required defensive measures to protect any VLS-ashore in any American ally’s territory.  Russia had many options, but by taking a path of noncompliance with the treaty that fundamentally established the conditions necessary for nuclear arms reductions in Europe, it now wishes to return to an arms race.  By intimating that U.S. missile defenses are a violation of the INF Treaty, Moscow perhaps gives away its own rationale for noncompliance.  We should take steps to ensure no advantage results, including defending our Allies and deployed forces from INF-range attack.

Finally, as other U.S. experts have noted, in particular Jeffrey Lewis, it is the Russian Federation, not the United States, that continues to mix conventional and nuclear missile defense.  It perhaps now has begun to mix conventional and nuclear offense in a force of banned INF-range weapons.

Should Moscow wish to engage in a public debate regarding U.S. arms control compliance, both the Government and people of the United States would welcome any such effort.  Citation of legally defective and intentionally vague accusations in response to a specific, public finding of noncompliance achieves nothing.