In the Thick of ItA blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
It’s official: On Aug. 2 the U.S. formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, widely known as the INF, stirring up fears of a new arms race in Europe. The 1987 pact with Moscow banned both nuclear and conventional missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and was historic in that it “marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons” and use “extensive on-site inspections for verification,” according to the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
Speaking a day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated Washington's position that “Russia remains in material breach of its treaty obligations,” a charge first leveled during the Obama administration. Russia has denied the allegations in the past and has leveled accusations of its own concerning U.S. compliance. This week Moscow called on the U.S. and other NATO members to declare a moratorium on INF-range missiles “in certain regions,” news agencies reported.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the treaty “an invaluable brake on nuclear war,” warning that its demise “will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles.”
For those who want to delve deeper into still relevant aspects of the treaty and its collapse—like possible consequences and prospects for a follow-on—we offer some of the best INF-focused articles to appear on Russia Matters:
- “Expert Survey: Is Nuclear Arms Control Dead or Can New Principles Guide It?” July 30, 2019: What arrangements could emerge from the rubble of U.S.-Russian arms control and what should be their guiding principles? Eight leading international experts weigh in.
- “The INF Quandary: Preventing a Nuclear Arms Race in Europe. Perspectives from the U.S., Russia and Germany,” Jan. 24, 2019: Three highly respected experts—William Tobey, Pavel Zolotarev and Ulrich Kühn—weigh in on the consequences of the INF’s demise and prospects for some sort of INF follow-on.
- “Withdrawing From the INF Treaty: Consequences and Costs,” Oct. 23, 2018: Ten eminent experts from the Belfer Center and three highly regarded Moscow-based experts assess the consequences and costs of the U.S. withdrawal.
- “After the INF Treaty: An Objective Look at US and Russian Compliance, Plus a New Arms Control Regime,” Dec. 7, 2017: Retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan explains which Russian concerns about U.S. compliance with the INF Treaty are legitimate and proposes a new treaty focusing on warheads instead of delivery systems.
- “A Strategy for (Modestly Increasing the Chance of) Saving the INF Treaty,” May 11, 2017: James Acton argues that, while it was highly unlikely (even two years ago) that Russia would return to compliance with the INF Treaty, the U.S. should make every effort to create three realities that Moscow can’t ignore.
- “Russia's Missile Gamble: Is the INF Treaty Dead?,” March 9, 2017: William McHenry explores the root causes of Russian misbehavior with regard to the INF.
Photo: Sculpture made of shrapnel from a Soviet missile destroyed per the terms of the INF Treaty. Gift to U.S. Ambassador Eileen Malloy. Collections of the U.S. Diplomacy Center.
South Korean fighter jets fired over 300 warning shots at a Russian Air Force A-50 Mainstay Airborne Early Warning aircraft on July 23 after the Russian plane twice violated South Korea’s airspace above the East Sea, according to South Korean authorities cited by The Aviationist. Earlier that day, Russian and Chinese bombers had conducted their first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific. Russia’s Defense Ministry said there had been “no violations of airspaces of foreign countries” in its joint patrol with China, according to the New York Times, and Russian diplomats in Seoul reportedly complained of inaccuracies in the official comments from South Korea.
In considering the incident, it’s important to note, as The Aviationist points out, that “there’s a significant difference between territorial sky,” otherwise known as a nation’s sovereign airspace, and air defense identification zones, or ADIZs, which “are not defined in any international law” but determined by countries as “an airspace … where identification, location and control of aircraft over land or water is required in the interest of national security.” The New York Times reported that in 2013, two weeks after China unilaterally expanded its air patrol zone to disputed territory, South Korea expanded its ADIZ “for the first time in 62 years to include airspace over the East China Sea that is also claimed by China and Japan. Since that expansion, the air defense zones of all three countries have overlapped.” (Japan said it had also scrambled jets in response to the Sino-Russian patrol and had lodged formal complaints against both Moscow and Seoul, the New York Times story said.) Russia's Defense Ministry, according to Reuters, said it did not recognize South Korea's ADIZ, while “the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the area [in question] was not territorial airspace and that all countries enjoyed freedom of movement in it”; the Pentagon, meanwhile, said it supported South Korea’s and Japan’s responses.
According to South Korea’s military, the July 23 incident marked both “the first time that a foreign military plane has violated Korea's territorial sky and South Korea fired warning shots in response” and also “the first time that Russian and Chinese aircraft entered KADIZ [Korea’s ADIZ] simultaneously,” the Yonhap news agency reported. (Separate KADIZ violations are relatively common, the agency suggested, with Chinese military aircraft entering 25 times and Russian planes 13 times just this year.)
Russia Matters asked some members of the Belfer Center’s Russia team for their take on the developments.
Professor of Practice, Harvard Kennedy School; Co-Principal Investigator, Belfer Center’s Project on Managing the Atom
This is further evidence that thinking is needed on how to (a) broaden the Incidents at Sea and Dangerous Military Activities-type agreements beyond the U.S. and Russia and (b) make them actually function properly.
Associate, Belfer Center; Member, Belfer Center’s U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism; Founder, Elbe Group
For me the significant point is the joint air patrol. (Yes, a shoot-down could trigger a series of events ending in open conflict, but it is not likely given previous examples like Turkey’s shoot-down.) I have been watching for signs of a “Pacific region security initiative,” which is called for in the 2014 Russian military doctrine. The way Chinese troops were included in the Vostok 2018 mass exercise, together with these joint patrols and other efforts, indicates that Russia and China are creating some ability to work jointly militarily in the Pacific. I want to know if their relationship will look like NATO (which Russia has publicly ruled out) or like U.S.-Canada or some other association.
In the 2014 doctrine, Russia claims it won’t create a formal military alliance in the Pacific. But whatever it is called, there is something being created.
Additionally, I am not sure the news accurately tells us where the planes were. If the firing occurred in or very near territorial airspace, it would be similar to the Turkey shoot-down. But if it occurred way out in ADIZ, then the South Korean military acted dangerously (perhaps illegally) in firing.
We can all recall the Soviet shoot-down of a Korean airliner in 1983. That was a mistake and Russia uncharacteristically gave a public briefing to explain its side of events. The Soviets also forced a Korean airliner to land on a frozen lake in the west near Murmansk in 1978. The airliner had strayed into Soviet airspace. That caused a death and injuries.
I’m wondering why Russia and China would do joint air patrols near a third country’s airspace. Militaries do joint operations to practice so they can do them more often and better. Perhaps they’re going to increase patrols and want to get better at avoiding incidents. I doubt that they’re going to share patrol responsibility over their own air space. If people like Alexander Golts are right, then Russian senior military still want a military force capable of fighting a major adversary (i.e., more than just a local conflict). Russia can’t do that for the foreseeable future by itself. China may have made the same assessment. I think they are building a joint capability that will exist without any formal treaty or commitment—just an understanding that the joint capability may be needed in the future. It could backfire on Russia if China decides to flex its muscles in Russia’s Far East. That kind of thinking backfired on Russia in 1941.
Senior Fellow, Belfer Center; Director, U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism; oversaw INF Treaty compliance policy in the George H. W. Bush administration
The joint patrol was a message that Russia and China intend to be mutually supportive on Northeast Asia security issues (and perhaps more broadly). It’s political, not practice. Of course, whether or not that can last is an open question. China wants to assemble some help against the United States, Japan and South Korea. Russia needs any friend it can get. Not surprisingly, they picked what they thought was the weakest link (which turned out not to be so weak).
Published jointly with the Belfer Center's U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism.
Photo: A Russian Defense Ministry A-50 early-warning plane standing on the tarmac in Ivanovo, Russia. (Source: Russian Defense Ministry's Twitter feed)
Top 10 of 2019 (so far)
1. 5 Years Since Russia’s Intervention in Ukraine: Has Putin’s Gamble Paid Off? by Simon Saradzhyan
2. Gangster Geopolitics: The Kremlin’s Use of Criminals as Assets Abroad by Mark Galeotti
3. How Much Did Orthodox Church Help Revive Russia’s Military and Nuclear Complex? by Dmitry Gorenburg
4. Russia’s National Projects: Economic Reboot or Mucky Bog? by Ben Aris
5. How Big a Threat Is Russia? An Interview With Graham Allison by RM Staff
Below you will find key comments related to the meetings made by Pompeo, Putin, Lavrov and other officials, as well as some analysis and recent developments that add important context. This post may be updated as more information becomes available.