Calling Putin’s Bluff (Or Not?) An Assessment of Russian Attachment to the INF Treaty and Its Implications
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Four years after the US State Department first publicly accused the Russian Federation of violating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the dispute surrounding the compliance of both parties has largely remained unchanged. Despite numerous indications of interest in withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Russian policymakers have yet to make an effort to do so. Instead, these officials have used the opportunity to express their continued interest in the survival of the INF Treaty, and to condemn the behavior of US military and political elites that the Russians claim has weakened the legitimacy of the treaty. Ultimately, evidence suggests that one can tie Russian retention of the INF Treaty to a desire to maintain strategic parity with the United States while upholding Russia’s reputation as a leader in the field of international arms control. This indicates that the Russians perceive the INF Treaty as both a guarantor of Russian security, and a tool through which to promote their interpretation of the moral and practical principles driving the international arms control regime. Ultimately, evidence suggests that one can tie Russian retention of the INF Treaty to a desire to maintain strategic parity with the United States. At the same time, formally adhering to the ideals of the INF Treaty preserves Russia’s reputation as a responsible participant and leader in the field of international arms control that can credibly advocate for a distinctly Russian interpretation of the nature and goals of arms control to the larger international community. With this in mind, US policymakers can expect their Russian counterparts to push US policymakers to make concessions benefitting Russian security during future INF Treaty negotiations. On the other hand, these experts can expect Russian policymakers to respond to US withdrawal from the INF Treaty in an extremely negative manner that will incorporate political and military actions that destabilize Europe, and undermine NATO unity. The potential risks surrounding US withdrawal from the INF Treaty suggest that US policymakers must make every possible effort to preserve the Treaty. This can be achieved through either wider dissemination of technical information surrounding the Russian violation, or the organization of technological demonstrations for US and Russian experts of systems evoking concern from both parties.