There is an oft-proven adage: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.” When our nation – under administrations of both parties – has been fooled, first by the Soviets, and more recently by the Russians, on virtually every arms control accord we have signed with them, however, it is not simply shameful. It is evidence of systematic official malfeasance.
Last week, the New York Times reported that one of the United States’ most egregious arms control malpractitioners, Acting Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, recently (and reluctantly) briefed NATO about a new threat to the alliance. It is a Russian ground-launched cruise missile, designated the R-500 that is capable of flying 2,000 kilometers and could be used to target not just U.S. allies and bases in Europe, but also in Asia.
This sort of threat is, of course, something supposedly eliminated by the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987. The stated purpose of that accord was to rid Washington and Moscow’s arsenals of an entire class of nuclear and conventionally armed ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges of between 300 and 3,400 miles. Russia’s testing of the R-500, reportedly since 2008, constitutes a deliberate and serious violation of that accord.
Such cheating doesn’t surprise me. Not only is it standard operating procedure for the Kremlin. I worked for President Reagan on the negotiation of the INF accord and warned at the time that Moscow could exploit its defects to field prohibited ground-launched cruise missiles.
Neither is it surprising that the U.S. government has yet to find the Russians in violation of the INF Treaty. Even in the Reagan administration, untold numbers of interagency meetings, briefings and memoranda were generated to consider whether the then-Soviet Union had violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by building a massive missile-tracking radar where one was clearly not allowed to be.
The Krasnoyarsk radar, moreover, was just one unmistakable indication of a vast array of prohibited territorial missile defenses the Kremlin had stealthily put in place. Yet, it took two more decades before an American president, George W. Bush, would withdraw from the ABM Treaty to deploy our own, albeit quite limited, anti-missile system. There is no indication that the Obama administration is contemplating repudiating the INF accord.
Vladimir Putin knows, moreover, that once the Americans sign onto an arms control agreement they will observe not just its letter, but its spirit – often taken to absurd lengths. Perhaps the most egregious example is the U.S. restraint in observing an accord that it has yet to ratify: the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We conduct absolutely no nuclear tests, while Russia – which is a state party – continues to conduct low-yield ones.
For these reasons, Russian cheating like that underway with the INF Treaty not only means that Moscow is acquiring a new capability to threaten our allies and interests. It is once again making a mockery of the whole arms control enterprise in which successive U.S. administrations have massively over-invested.
In the face of such conduct, we have from Rose Gottemoeller and the rest of Team Obama serial excuse-making, “quiet diplomacy” and pathetic inaction that only invites further bad behavior from Putin and his ilk. This sort of “reset” just makes the world more dangerous.
Pretending otherwise – and dissembling to the American people – fits the pattern of national security fraud of which the Obama administration has been guilty for years. By persisting in the deception that relations with Russia are normal, or even improving, it is perpetrating a hoax that again, is not merely shameful. It may rise to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Thank heavens, some in Congress have begun calling the administration out on this misconduct. It was pressure from Capitol Hill that prompted Ms. Gottemoeller to brief the NATO allies about the R-500 four years after Russia began testing its illegal missile. And, in the wake of the New York Times report, leading Republicans in the Senate (notably, Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch) and the House (including senior Armed Services Committee members like Reps. Buck McKeon, Mac Thornberry, Mike Turner and Mike Rogers) have warned against President Obama’s dangerous pursuit of still further arms control treaties with Russia aimed cutting our strategic nuclear deterrent.
At a moment when Russia’s hosting of Olympic games is in the public eye, we would do well to reflect upon an activity in which the Kremlin has long excelled: Violating and otherwise manipulating its solemn international obligations to achieve advantages over adversaries foolish enough to trust Moscow, and persist in honoring unilaterally their commitments.
We can blame Putin for going for the gold in such perfidy. We have only ourselves to blame, though, for both ignoring and rewarding it.