What's In Blue

Posted Wed 21 Aug 2019

Meeting on Intermediate-range Cruise Missile Test

Tomorrow afternoon (22 August), the Security Council will hold a briefing on the 18 August intermediate-range cruise missile test conducted by the US. China and Russia requested a meeting under the agenda item “threats to international peace and security” citing the destabilising effects of the US cruise missile test. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu will brief.

The US Department of Defense confirmed on Monday that it had conducted a flight test of a ground-launched cruise missile which hit its intended target after travelling for more than 500 kilometres.  This marks the first time the US has conducted an intermediate-range cruise missile test after formally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on 2 August.

The US and the USSR signed the INF in 1987 and ratified it the following year. The treaty prohibited possessing, development and testing of ground-launched missiles with a range of 500-5,5000 kilometres. By the implementation deadline, June 1991, both countries had eliminated over 2,600 missiles falling under the treaty’s criteria.

Tensions between Russia and the US over compliance with the INF have been mounting for several years. The US and NATO have claimed that Russia continually violated the treaty by developing intermediate-range missile capability. For its part, Russia has raised questions over US compliance with the treaty following deployment of missile defence systems in Europe, which Russia claims could also be used for deploying missiles prohibited by the INF.

In November 2018, the US provided details of alleged Russian violations of the INF. The US said that its intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia has been testing ground-based intermediate-range missiles with conventional and nuclear warhead capability since the late 2000s. In December 2018, the US issued a 60-day ultimatum for Russia to return to treaty compliance, failing which the US would halt its own compliance with the treaty.

On 2 February, the US announced that it would suspend its treaty obligations and withdraw from the INF in six months if Russia failed to adhere to treaty provisions. Citing Russian non-compliance, the US formally withdrew from the treaty on 2 August and announced that it would start testing missiles that were previously banned by the INF.  This was followed by the 18 August US test of an intermediate-range cruise missile.

In her briefing, Nakamitsu is likely to reiterate the Secretary-General’s 2 August statement in which he expressed regret over the demise of the INF and noted that in the deteriorating international security environment, previously-agreed arms control and disarmament agreements are under threat. Nakamitsu may call on the US and Russia to avoid any activities that could have a destabilising effect.

The US is likely to reiterate its position that it could not remain in the treaty amid continued violations by Russia. From the geopolitical standpoint, the US has also argued that the INF puts the US in an unfavourable position in Asia, especially in relation to China, which is not bound by the treaty and which the US claims has been developing its own missile capabilities. In a 2 August statement, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO allies agree that Russia violated the INF and that Russia bears sole responsibility for the treaty’s collapse. Council members which are also members of NATO (Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and the UK) are likely to align their statements with the NATO position on the issue.

In addition to denying the US claims of non-compliance, Russia is likely to condemn the unilateral move by the US to withdraw from the INF and resume intermediate-range missile development and testing. Russia has also suggested that the short time frame for formally leaving the INF and testing the missile indicates that the US had been planning to dismantle the treaty for some time. On 19 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia will refrain from deploying intermediate-range missile systems unless the US deploys them first. China is also likely to condemn the US decision to withdraw from the INF and may stress that such a move is likely to destabilise international peace and security and have a negative impact on global arms control efforts. The US administration has indicated that there is a need for a new arms control agreement that would also include China. However, China has said that it will not engage in arms control negotiations with Russia and the US. China’s position is that its nuclear capabilities are limited, and its nuclear policy is responsible and transparent, and does not pose a threat to international peace and security.

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