STRATCOM Commander Wary Of ‘Tit-For-Tat’ Response To Russian INF Violation

The State Department on July 3 released additional details about the types of ballistic missiles, launchers, and bombers being counted under the latest New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) aggregate data.

A "tit-for-tat" response to Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF)Treaty may not be the best option for the United States, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said July 26 on a conference call with reporters during the Deterrence Symposium in Omaha, Neb.

U.S. officials have concluded that Russia deployed a ground-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile in breach of the INF Treaty, which prohibits ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The administration is preparing response options as part of its Nuclear Posture Review process, which it expects to complete by the end of 2017.

The House of Representatives earlier in July passed its version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), calling for the U.S. to establish a program of record for an INF-range missile system; the White House has opposed this provision. Meanwhile, the Senate version of the legislation would authorize $65 million for research and development of such a missile – a measure the White House seems to support.

Hyten said that while the U.S. must respond to the Russian INF violation, “I’m of the mind that tit-for-tat responses, although useful, aren’t always the best response.”

“You have to look at the overall strategic situation and then respond strategically, and that may involve pursuing new capabilities, that may involve doing a number of different things, but it may involve political responses, it may involve economic responses,” he said.

Ultimately, Hyten said, “our desire is to be in the INF Treaty with the Russians and to be both in compliance.” Reaching this point, he added, is a matter for political leadership, but “I give my military recommendations when asked.”

The INF Treaty allows research and development of intermediate-range systems, which means the Defense Department could consider extending the range of existing missiles. The Trump administration could also choose to abandon the treaty while it develops its own ground-launched cruise missile, something many U.S. officials have cautioned against.

The House and Senate will need to reconcile their versions of the NDAA, including the INF provisions, before sending it to the president for signature.





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