Earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats conducted a briefing with press on Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty. Please see below for his opening statement, as prepared for delivery.
Thank you all for joining me today. For many of us who lived through the Cold War, you know, first hand, the long-fought achievements of arms control. However, today, the US is faced with a critical choice regarding one of those treaties that we believe is not being effectively adhered to.
In 1987 the United States and Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The treaty banned GROUND-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as their launchers, with a range capability between 500 and 5,500 km. The Treaty applies to missiles with nuclear or conventional warheads.
Together, we eliminated over 2,600 prohibited missiles. However, since 2014, the United States has considered Russia to be in violation of its obligations under the Treaty.
While compliance determinations such as this one are ultimately made by the interagency US policy community, it is the job of the intelligence community to analyze those activities which have implications for a country’s international obligations.
The Intelligence Community assesses Russia has flight-tested, produced, and deployed cruise missiles with a range capability prohibited by the Treaty.
Russia has shown no sign that it is willing to acknowledge its violation, let alone return to full and verifiable compliance.
Today I’m going to detail for you how Russia has violated the treaty, how they have denied its violation, and the broader security implications of this violation.
I’ll start by sharing the history of the Russian violation.
Our bottom line: we assess that Russia began the covert development of an intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missile designated 9M729 probably by the mid-2000s. The 9M729 has a conventional and nuclear warhead capability.
Russia’s Novator (no-VA-tor) design bureau was tasked to develop the missile, which closely resembles other cruise missiles that Novator was developing at the time, such as the Iskander.
Russia began testing the missile in the late 2000’s and by 2015 had completed a comprehensive flight test program consisting of multiple tests of the 9M729 missile from both fixed and mobile launchers.
Russia conducted the flight test program in a way that appeared purposefully designed to disguise the true nature of their testing activity as well as the capability of the 9M729 missile.
Here’s how this worked:
While the INF Treaty bans all ground-based missile systems within the prohibited range, it allows you to test missiles from a fixed launcher as long as you do not intend to base them on the ground. For example, basing missiles on ship or aircraft.
Aware of this treaty provision, Russia initially flight tested the 9M729 – a ground based missile – to distances well over 500 kilometers (km) from a fixed launcher. Russia then tested the same missile at ranges below 500km from a mobile launcher
By putting the two types of tests together, Russia was able to develop a missile that flies to the intermediate ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty and launches from a ground-mobile platform.
Russia probably assumed parallel development – tested from the same site – and deployment of other cruise missiles that are not prohibited by the INF Treaty would provide sufficient cover for its INF violation.
Since 2013, the United States has repeatedly approached the Russian government in an effort to resolve the issue of Russian noncompliance.
At multiple senior political engagements, the United States stressed that Russia’s violation is an impediment to the arms control regime and the overall bilateral relationship.
When confronted about Treaty noncompliance, Russia’s response over five years has been consistent: deny any wrongdoing, demand more information in an effort to determine how the United States detected the violation, and issue false counter-accusations that the United States is violating the Treaty.
It was not until the United States publicized the Russian designator for the missile – 9M729 – that the Russian side acknowledged the existence of the new cruise missile in question.
Russia then immediately pivoted to a cover story that such a new ground-launched cruise missile exists but is not capable of ranges banned by the Treaty.
Russia, to this day, has refused to answer questions about the 9M729 tests from the fixed launcher at ranges covered by the INF, despite the detailed information the US has provided about the flights.
Broader Security Context
So now we are where we are. Russia has violated the INF and the US is committed to effective security and arm control regimes. We must reconcile these realities with the security context of today’s environment.
We believe that Russia probably wants to be unconstrained by the INF Treaty as it modernizes its military with precision-strike missiles that we assess are designed to target critical European military and economic infrastructure, and thereby be in position to coerce NATO allies.
These relatively low-cost and survivable capabilities give Russia more options to strike allied military targets and populations without consuming Russia’s inventory of strategic offensive weapons and theater strike resources such as sea-launched cruise missiles.
We believe Russia’s objective was to keep the United States constrained while it quietly built and deployed a force of illegal missiles that threaten Europe.
Russia continues to press forward, and as of late 2018, has fielded multiple battalions of 9M729 missiles, which pose a direct conventional and nuclear threat against most of Europe and parts of Asia.
So, in conclusion, I hope this gives you a strategic view of the timeline of events, the spectrum of challenges we’ve had engaging with Russia on this topic and the insight needed to best understand why the US is on the path toward withdrawal from the INF.