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The Case for a Stronger NATO Post-INF Treaty

By: Patrick Dozier

In early February, the United States announced that it will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which was signed in 1987 with the former Soviet Union regarding land-based missiles with a range between 300 and 3,400 miles. In early March, Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit, formally suspending Russia’s obligations under the INF Treaty. This has naturally caused some concern among U.S. allies in Europe, including a number of NATO members, that the two former Cold War adversaries could enter into a new arms race.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed in 1949by the United States, Canada, and ten (10) European nations, served as an Alliance to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. Since its founding, NATO has expanded its partnership to a total of twenty-nine (29) member nations from both North America and Europe. The Treaty itself is comprised of 14 Articles, with Articles 3 and 5 being central to the Treaty’s purpose of collective security. Article 3 states that member nations will build Alliance capacity to defend against armed attack, and Article 5 serves to guarantee collective defense, where an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all, providing assurance that all member nations will defend the security of the Alliance.

While there has been tension in recent months regarding the amount of funding some NATO members contribute to defense spending, this matter appears minor when juxtaposed against a threat to any member-nation. In a recent NATO Summit, Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan sought to assure NATO members by saying, “[t]he United States is committed to NATO. Our Article 5 obligations remain ironclad,” referring to the treaty article that says an attack on one member will be treated as an attack on all. Also during the Summit, members committed to implementation of new measures that would not only strengthen the NATO Alliance, but also deter Russia. Some of those measures include expediting mobility of troops and equipment to Russia’s neighbors, placement of coastal radar systemsin Romania and Bulgaria by the United States, a new package of measures (to be announced in April 2019) to strengthen NATO’s posture in the Black Sea, and NATO’s funding to construct a new facilityin Poland to store U.S. military equipment. These measures are essential to not only build confidence and calm any emergent uneasiness regarding the implications in a “post-INF Treaty” Europe, but also for the long-term strength of the Alliance. To date, Article 5 has only been invoked once, in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. However, should Russia miscalculate, choosing to test the Alliance’s resolve with the use of missiles once banned under the INF Treaty in Europe, there is no doubt that those member nations not attacked would engage upon invocation of Article 5. Moreover, Russia knows this to be true, given its staunch opposition to former-Soviet countries becoming members of NATO. Russia, like the United States and other NATO members, knows that a unified NATO Alliance is the greatest hurdle to Russia’s plans for regional expansion.

Fortunately, all hope is not lost. Even though both the United States and Russia are absolving themselves of their INF Treaty obligations, one avenue to prevent a nuclear arms race is a non-deployment agreement. Under this type of agreement, Russia could offer to not deploy new nuclear systems so long as the United States does not deploy new intermediate-range missile systems. As another less likely possibility, according to officials, Russia could save the INF Treaty if it destroyed the INF-prohibited missiles that prompted the United States to withdraw from the Treaty by August 2019. 

While it appears most likely that the INF Treaty’s time has passed, a strong, cohesive NATO is as important to European security as it has ever been. Despite any unmet obligations, financial or otherwise, the United States, Canada, and other member nations will be ready to answer the call should an Article 5 invocation be required. President Trump and other NATO leaders know well that the cost of doing nothing in the face of Russian aggression would be more than the NATO Alliance, or the free world, could easily bear.  Working as one, the Alliance serves as the greatest deterrent to Russian aggression in Europe. NATO members must remain true to the words of the North Atlantic Treaty’s preamble, which establish the purpose of the Alliance: “… to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law…to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security.”


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