OMAHA, Neb. — The United States could be at a strategic disadvantage without a multilateral nuclear arms-reduction treaty, the Navy admiral in charge of setting targets for U.S. nuclear weapons said here Wednesday.
“The INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] is a great system between us and Russia to limit forces within a certain range,” Rear Adm. William Houston, deputy director of strategic targeting and nuclear mission planning for U. S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said during a panel discussion at the 2018 STRATCOM Deterrence Symposium.
“However, we need to recognize all the potential competitors we have out there, and not entering a multilateral treaty for arms control could put us at a strategic disadvantage,” he added.
Houston spoke here only a week after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the White House was examining the future of nuclear arms-control treaties “in a holistic way,” and a little more than two weeks after President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for direct talks in Helsinki.
Strategic Command commander Air Force Gen. John Hyten told reporters here he supports the holistic approach to arms-control negotiations put forth by the current administration.
In 2014, the Barack Obama administration said Russia violated the bilateral INF Treaty, stoking discussion that the Cold War-era arms-control agreement did not do enough to stabilize nuclear-armed nations not party to it. Houston specifically cited the threat of Chinese ballistic missiles in the Pacific region.
The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, prohibits Russia and the U.S. from fielding ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with flight ranges between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers, or about 310 miles and 3,100 miles. The measure’s ratification precipitated a massive reduction in the number of deployed tactical nuclear weapons — lower-yield weapons intended to be launched from a site near a conflict zone — by both nations.
Although the INF Treaty does not expire, the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act would if signed into law allow Trump to decide by Jan. 19, 2019 whether the United States still has an obligation under U.S. law to comply with Article VI of the pact — the section that prohibits testing and developing missiles within the prohibited range prohibited. Trump could make the decision if he finds Russia has not returned to compliance with the INF Treaty, the bill reads.
The Senate approved the bill Wednesday, sending it to Trump’s desk.