Friday, August 23, 2019

The Russian and Chinese Responses to the Pentagon's Intermediate-Range Missile Test

After the U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or INF at the beginning of August 2019 because of so-called violations by the Russian, the United States was very quick to test a missile that would have fallen under the umbrella of the treaty which banned missiles with a range of between 500 and 5500 kilometres.  This treaty was put into place primarily because both the Soviet Union and the United States could easily conceal shorter-range, land-based nuclear cruise missiles that could strike with little or no warning.

Here is the announcement of the missile test which took place on San Nicolas Island in California by the Pentagon:


Here is a video showing the ground-based launch of the conventionally configured (i.e. not nuclear) cruise missile:


According to the United States Naval Institute (USNI), the missile was a modified Tomahawk Land Attack Missile or TLAM built by Raytheon and fired from a jury-rigged Lockheed Martin MK-41 Vertical Launch System cell mounted on a trailer, the same launcher used in the Aegis Ashore missile defense system which is currently used for launching interceptor missiles.  This system which has been set up in both Poland and Romania caused Russia to claim that the United States was in breach of the INF.  The speed with which the test took place after the collapse of the INF place suggests that the Pentagon had been working on the system well prior to Washington's announced withdrawal.  The test was overseen by the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office which exists to alter existing weapons systems for new warfare capabilities.  According to the Pentagon, the test was a success with the missile accurately striking its target more than 500 kilometres away.

While we heard some vague rumblings from Russia about the launch, President Vladimir Putin had some interesting comments about the United States and its missile program:

1.) Press conference prior to a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on August 19, 2019:

"I would like to recall that it was not Russia that withdrew unilaterally from the ABM Treaty. We did not walk away from the INF Treaty either. Now, extending the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms (START III) is on the agenda. We have not yet seen any initiatives from our American partners although our proposals are on the table.

We are worried about the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the potential militarisation of outer space, and here we have something to discuss. We would even like to discuss these items in detail to clear up the position of France on these vital issues, including space militarisation.

I would like to recall and repeat here in France that we assume a unilateral commitment on medium- and shorter-range missiles. If such attack systems are deployed by the US, we will also have them, but we will not deploy them anywhere unless US systems like this appear.

Regrettably, we have not yet heard any response to what we have expressed many times in public. We get the impression that they simply do not hear us. That said, I think the Europeans are interested in listening to us and responding appropriately."

2.) Joint news conference with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto on August 21, 2019:

Here's the question:

"Several days ago, the US tested a missile that was banned in the past by the INF Treaty. I know that security is a very sensitive issue for Europeans. I would like to ask you if you have discussed or are planning to discuss this new reality during your meeting."

Here is Mr. Putin's response:

"I can say we are disappointed with what we see. Obviously, testing a ground-based medium-range missile violates the INF Treaty and aggravates the situation in the word in general and in Europe in particular. I will explain what I mean.

First of all, the Americans tested this missile too fast, too soon after they announced their withdrawal from the treaty. In this sense, we have grounds to believe that the work on this missile (on the ‘landing’, as this is a sea missile) had begun long before they started searching for a pretext to withdraw from the treaty. To tell the truth, I have not heard the Americans saying they do not plan to deploy these missiles in Europe. If they did say so, that would be good, of course.

We have talked about this; I have said this many times, and two days ago, I said this in Marseilles. I can repeat it here in Helsinki: Russia will not deploy missiles – although, of course, we will be working on short-range and medium-range systems like this – unless corresponding missile systems produced in the US are deployed in a given region. We have not received any response from our American or European partners so far.

I am concerned that the tested missile, according to the Pentagon, is a Tomahawk, or a sea-based missile. It was reconfigured to be land-based. These missiles can be launched from existing launchers in Romania or ones that will soon be located in Poland. It only requires a change of software. I am not sure that our American friends will even inform their European partners about the software they use in these systems. For us this means a new threat appearing that we must respond to."

Not only was this test undertaken to send a message to Russia, it sent a strong message to China.  On August 3, 2019, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made comments about deploying missiles to Asia as shown in this article from Military Times:



According to the article, the Pentagon estimates that a low-flying cruise missile with a range of about 1,000 kilometres could be tested this month (as noted above) and could be ready for deployment in 18 months.  A ballistic missile with a range of between 3000 to 4000 kilometres would take five or more years to deploy.

The recent missile test by the United States and the comments by Mark Asper brought about this response from China's Daily News, an organ of China's Communist Party:





Note these sentences:

"China, an outsider to the INF regime, has refused to be dragged in and become a third party in Russia-US intermediate-range missile negotiations, as the premise and basis for trilateral arms control negotiations do not exist.

Trilateral talks would be to no purpose since not only has the current US administration shown it is willing to tear up any agreement whenever it feels like it, but even if it did take part in them, it would be doing so in bad faith, since its true intention in withdrawing from the INF Treaty is to make the treaty no longer binding on itself." (my bold)

As we can see, the testing of a medium-range missile by the United States has opened Pandora's box. A series of consequences have been created by this move, the most important of which is the launching of a new global arms race as both Russia and China are being forced to respond to protect their homelands from potential American aggression.