Despite years of warnings, Russia has doubled down on its previously alleged violation of a three-decade-old nuclear arms control treaty by deploying a banned intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile. Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the deployment of the missile to Congress on Wednesday, calling it a violation of “the spirit and intent” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, commonly known as the INF Treaty. “We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility,” he added.
Western analysts have voiced bewilderment over why Russia would violate the INF Treaty now, given the potential costs. Among other consequences, the U.S. Senate will not ratify another Russian-U.S. arms control treaty until this issue is resolved. But Russia has its own military reasons to seek intermediate-range ground-based missiles as a supplement to its sea- and air-launched missiles and a complement to its conventional and strategic nuclear forces.
In December 1987, Washington and Moscow signed the INF Treaty, which bans both countries from manufacturing, deploying or flight-testing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. According to recent reports, the SSC-8 cruise missile that Russia has developed, tested and now deployed violates these very prohibitions. The U.S. previously accused Russia of violating the treaty in 2014.