Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that Moscow will target the United States with its new hypersonic missiles if the Trump administration follows its scrapping of a key arms control agreement by deploying new intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
The US started this tit-for-tat
By John Glaser
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a clear warning to the United States: If Washington deploys new intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will, too.
The context behind this threat is President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Negotiated in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF was a fairly successful arms-control agreement in which each party agreed to eliminate a whole class of missiles.
In recent years, both sides accused each other of failing to fully uphold the agreement. Instead of pursuing diplomacy to resolve the dispute, Trump ordered a unilateral withdrawal, accompanied by a promise to start deploying the prohibited weapons.
Putin’s threat might seem like cause for alarm, but Americans should keep two things in mind.
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First, hard-line policies against Russia increase the likelihood that Russia will respond in kind. From Moscow’s perspective, this is a reaction to an onslaught of provocations from Washington. For all the allegations of Trump’s weakness on Russia, the administration’s official strategy documents single out Russia as a principal threat to U.S. security.
In addition to withdrawing from the INF, Washington has imposed harsh economic sanctions on Moscow as punishment for meddling in Ukraine. Other U.S. policies contribute to Russian feelings of insecurity. Trump has increased troop deployments in Europe and is considering opening a new military base in Poland.
Second, Putin’s threat is just not all that threatening. For starters, the threat was conditional: He vowed that Russia will not be the first to deploy new intermediate-range missiles, but it will do so if the United States does first. He also expressed a willingness to return to the negotiating table, insisting that “we don’t want confrontation.”
More to the point, Russian military power hardly presents a direct threat to America. Its gross domestic product is about $1.6 trillion, less than a 10th of ours, and its annual military spending is a mere $66.3 billion, compared with the more than $700 billion that we spend. Russia has nukes but possesses limited power-projection capabilities and few allies that can aid its out-of-area ambitions.
Russia certainly acts aggressively in its near abroad, but Europe can easily deter it. Europe vastly outspends Russia on defense, at almost $285 billion per year.
Washington tends to inflate the threat from Moscow, while simultaneously ignoring U.S. policies that exacerbate tensions. A new arms race in Europe was a predictable consequence of Trump’s withdrawal from the INF. Luckily, there’s still time for peaceful diplomacy to mitigate these risks. Whether the political will exists is another question entirely.
John Glaser is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. You can follow him on Twitter: @jwcglaser.
What others are saying
Russian President Vladimir Putin, address to Russian parliament: “Among the U.S. ruling class, there are a lot of people who are too taken with the idea of their exceptionalism, of their supremacy over everyone else. Of course, it’s their right to think whatever way they want. But can they count? I’m sure they can. Let them count the range and speed of the weapons systems we are developing. That’s all we ask.”
Scott Dworkin, Twitter: “Putin threatened the U.S. on Wednesday. President Donald Trump’s response? Nothing. Putin’s puppet’ said nothing about Russia threatening the U.S. Trump’s (allegedly) too busy obstructing justice, colluding with Russia, attacking the Justice Department, the FBI and the press. Biggest traitor ever. It’s time to impeach Trump.”
Theodore Postol, The New York Times: “America must recognize that the Obama administration inadvertently chose a land-based missile defense system with no defensive capacity that instead looks like a strike system to Russia. The Trump administration must stop its extremists from ending a meaningful treaty and putting the world on a faster path to oblivion. And the Russians need to pull back from their threats and boasts about their new missiles — a foolish and dangerous reaction to American bungling that plays against their own self-interest. Everyone will win if the will exists to make those compromises. Everyone will lose if not.”
What our readers are saying
Don’t bet on Russian President Vladimir Putin not getting his way. If President Donald Trump doesn’t gather up courage on this issue, we better make sure he doesn’t deploy missiles at our European allies.
— Warren Weick
Think about the outcome, if Trump deploys missiles to Europe: Putin loses his shackles, he can go public with his missile programs and he can just say he is simply reacting to U.S. aggression, and withdraw from the treaty. We just gave the Kremlin moral superiority in the eyes of the Russian people. What does Putin lose?
— Zheng Chen
Americans, your Congress is the enemy of your state. We want to trade peacefully with you, but your Congress has begun a new Cold War and the people of the United States are suffering losses. Your weapons in Europe do not benefit our relations, and Russia will have to deploy its nuclear missiles in Haiti.
— Pavlique Cher
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