By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard
True to past form, John Bolton and Paula De Sutter authored an op-ed in the 15 August 2011 Wall Street Journal advocating withdrawal by the United States from the landmark INF Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which entered into force on 1 June 1988. A treaty signed by the sainted President Ronald Reagan, no less. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the Treaty was extended to include the Soviet successor states.
This Treaty, with a highly intrusive and reliable verification regime, eliminated in slightly less than three years a total of 2,692 ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. These nuclear-armed missiles, deployed in the European theater by NATO and the Warsaw Pact, were ready for launch on short notice. This obviously was an inherently unstable situation with the danger of an unauthorized or accidental launch that could escalate into an unintended nuclear war.
Even though they have condemned treaties in general for limiting U.S. flexibility and options, why would Bolton and De Sutter recommend that the U.S. should withdraw from such a mutually advantageous agreement? While it’s difficult to believe, their rationale is that other countries, including China, Iran, and North Korea, are deploying short and intermediate range missiles that could threaten U.S. forces.
In their view, this requires us to deploy ground-based missiles prohibited by the INF Treaty to provide a second strike deterrent capability. It is by no means clear why they believe that a deterrent to the employment of cruise and ballistic missiles against our troops must consist of mirror-image weapons systems when we have more than ample military capability that can serve the same purpose. Unless, of course, because this is simply a convenient if illogical excuse to free the U.S. from constraints on adding to our weapons arsenal by deploying short and medium range missiles.
Bolton and De Sutter implicitly dismiss any significant impact on relations with Russia of U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty by asserting that since Moscow has announced that it is no longer bound by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, it is likely to take the same action with regard to the INF Treaty. So we should pre-empt?
What would Ronald Reagan say?