After resigning from the Treaty on Medium-Range Nuclear Forces in August 2019, US President Donald Trump planned a comprehensive deal that would control all Russian and Chinese nuclear systems, including around 100 Russian and 2,200 ground-launched medium-range missiles. With the Xi administration unwilling to join the arms control negotiations, the Trump administration showed interest in a bilateral deal with Russia. To improve his negotiating position and military capabilities, she raised $ 181 million to develop conventional medium-range missiles.
On the one hand, the Biden administration should continue to build ground-based conventional medium-range missiles that will have significant operational value. The development of missiles previously restricted under the INF treaty would create negotiating chips for trade with Russian and Chinese systems. The use of medium-range missiles abroad would put pressure on the Putin and Xi governments to hold serious arms negotiations. In addition, US officials could propose swapping apples for apples, which would simplify negotiations with Russia and China.
On the other hand, the Biden government should take a realistic approach to arms negotiations with Russia and China. President Trump’s stated goal – to quickly achieve a single deal that controlled all Russian and Chinese nuclear weapons – has come a long way. Given the willingness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk, US officials could first seek a bilateral agreement with Russia. Then they could seek a bilateral agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Chinese and Russian dual ballistic and cruise missiles with dual capability endanger American and Allied security. Protected by integrated air defense systems, they can attack American and allied forces and bases across Eurasia. American and allied ballistic missile defense systems can intercept enemy missiles, but they could be overwhelmed and destroyed by a dedicated volley. Modern missiles like the Russian Iskander-M (also known as the SS-26) can also evade ballistic missile defense.
The Xi government has thousands of medium-range missiles that can damage US and allied airfields and naval facilities throughout the western Pacific. For example, the United States has seven air bases within a radius of 1,100 kilometers from China. By using radar and satellite imagery to detect ships 2,000 kilometers from mainland China, Beijing can destroy US and allied ships at sea.
The Putin administration is deploying medium-range missiles to improve its entry and denial capabilities in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg and the Crimea. For example, SSC-8 cruise missiles fired from the ground can destroy European targets from deep within Russian territory. Short-range mobile missiles such as the Iskander-M can also hit Western forces from Kaliningrad and Crimea.
As they develop modern missiles, American politicians must convince reluctant allies to host the weapons. If allies refuse, they could deploy systems on US territory in Guam or the Northern Mariana Islands. Without concrete plans to deploy US missiles overseas, these weapons will not have any meaningful leverage in arms talks.
In this regard, US officials can track the reduction of Russian and Chinese medium-range ground-based missiles separately and in several stages. For example, Putin offered to extend the new START nuclear pact. He also proposed a moratorium on the use of medium-range missiles in Europe. The Biden administration can use both overtures to stimulate negotiations on medium-range missiles.
A new generation of ground-based conventional medium-range missiles could penetrate Russian and Chinese A2 / AD bubbles to hit integrated air defense systems and time-sensitive targets, including aircraft on runways and missile launchers. For example, the Army’s extended-range precision strike missile, the Navy’s ground-launched Tomahawk land attack cruise missile, and the Navy’s standard multi-purpose missile 6 will each reach their initial operational capability in 2023.
The development and deployment of medium-range missiles would allow the Biden government to propose an apples-to-apples swap. For example, precision impact missiles could be exchanged for Russian and Chinese short-range ballistic missiles. Ground-based tomahawks could be exchanged for Russian SSC-8s and Chinese cruise missiles. SM-6 could be offered for Chinese medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship missiles.
To overcome the reluctance of the Allies at the base, the Biden government can combine missile missions with arms control negotiations. Allied politicians could sell the base program to generate leverage to reduce the enemy missile threat. If Moscow and Beijing refuse to negotiate, the blame for US missile deployment would be shifted to Russia and China.
The Biden government should not expect a quick breakthrough in bilateral negotiations with Russia and China. A global upper limit for ground-based medium-range missiles can be proposed as the opening game. A global cap would facilitate future disarmament talks if US officials could recommend rocket reductions. Negotiators would also be required to reach consensus on the number, types and capabilities of missiles that are subject to a restriction. The INF Treaty, concluded by President Ronald Reagan, showed “the rewards of patience”.
Luke Griffith is a postdoctoral fellow at the Ronald Reagan Institute. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow in nuclear safety in Stanton at the Rand think tank.