30th Anniversary of the INF Treaty: Under Secretary Thomas A. Shannon’s Interview with Kommersant daily

Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon gave an interview to Kommersant daily newspaper on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the INF Treaty. The English original interview is available below:

The fact that according to U.S. press the U.S. side started developing a ground based cruise missile (and the funding for it is included in the new NDAA) is not in violation with the terms of the INF treaty but seems to go against its spirit, don’t you think?  Why does the U.S. need such a prohibited missile?

The Trump Administration values the INF Treaty as a pillar of international security and stability.  It is very important in managing the relationship between the United States and Russia, as well as important to our allies and partners around the world – who value it for the limitations it places upon arms competition and as a symbol of the two foremost nuclear powers’ commitments to arms control and strategic stability.  By eliminating an entire class of the most destabilizing weapons, the INF Treaty was a key component to building and reinforcing strategic stability after the end of the Cold War.  In this time of increased tensions between the United States and Russia, INF and other arms control agreements are essential for ensuring transparency and predictability in our relationship, and for preventing the development of dangerously destabilizing arms race dynamics.

This is why the Trump Administration is making every effort to preserve the INF Treaty in the face of Russian violations.  We continue to abide by our Treaty commitments, unilaterally, even while Russia continues to produce and field a missile system that violates the INF Treaty.  However, continuation of a situation in which the United States remains in compliance while Russia violates the agreement is unacceptable to us.  This is because Russia is illegally seeking a unilateral military advantage while undermining future arms control engagements.  We hope and expect Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance with its INF Treaty obligations.  We will continue to engage with Russia through diplomatic channels to resolve this problem.  Unfortunately, in the years since we declared Russia in violation in July 2014, Russia has refused to engage with the United States in any meaningful way.

While we continue to seek a diplomatic solution to Russia’s violation, the United States is also beginning to study military options for a ground-launched intermediate-range system to ensure, should Russia not return to compliance and should the INF Treaty collapse as a result of Russia’s violation, that the United States will be able to defend itself and U.S. allies, and deny Russia the military advantage it has sought with the development of prohibited missiles.  As the Russian government is aware, the Treaty does not prohibit research activities that fall short of possession, production, and flight-testing of prohibited systems.  Let me be clear:  the United States will not take any action that is in violation of our INF Treaty obligations.  We are prepared to cease such research into INF-prohibited systems if Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance with its INF Treaty obligations.

You have been discussing the INF treaty with Sergey Ryabkov.  Have these consultations not eased any of the U.S. concerns?  How could the Russian side prove it is not in violation of the treaty – by providing certain information, allowing U.S. inspections?  What are you asking Russia to do?

The United States declared Russia in violation of the INF Treaty in 2014.  Since then, U.S. officials have sought to engage Russia, up to the highest levels of government, to seek a resolution.  Russian officials have refused to engage constructively, discuss the information provided by the United States, or even answer basic questions.  Russian officials have refused even to acknowledge the existence of the missile system in question.

The United States sees a clear path to resolution.  Russia needs to return to compliance with its obligations by completely and verifiably eliminating the prohibited missile system.  The INF Treaty itself suggests specific steps that Russia could take to eliminate these missiles and launchers in a manner the United States could confirm.  There are mutually agreed-upon steps that served both the United States and the Soviet Union well as they eliminated their INF-prohibited systems after the Treaty was signed in 1987.  If these procedures are unacceptable to Russia, the United States stands ready to negotiate other measures that would provide us with confidence the missile system has been eliminated from Russia’s arsenal.  We would like Russian officials finally to engage with us substantively and constructively, rather than to continue to obfuscate with categorical denials and baseless counter-accusations.

Are you addressing Russia’s concerns about the MK-41, the missile defense test missiles and the drones?

The United States has repeatedly answered Russia’s questions about U.S. defensive systems, test missiles, and drones.  We did so in a transparent, substantive, and constructive manner.  For instance, the INF Treaty provides an explicit exemption for the use of booster systems for missile defense and other research and development purposes under specific conditions.  The United States complies with Treaty requirements when using boosters for testing missile defense systems, and provides all the required notification and documentation to Russia.  Similarly, the United States responded to Russia’s questions about the MK-41 launcher.  We specifically underscored that this launcher has never contained, launched, or been tested for launching an INF-prohibited missile.  It is only configured to launch a defensive interceptor, and lacks the weapons control systems, software, and support systems to launch an offensive missile.  Finally, the INF Treaty prohibits ground-launched ballistic and cruise missile systems; reusable two-way systems – such as manned aircraft and drones – do not fall within the parameters of the Treaty.

Are there any plans for another meeting of the control commission like the one last year?  Could this mechanism be useful to work with the concerns of both sides?

Technical experts will meet again in the near future to discuss INF Treaty issues.  The Special Verification Commission – the Treaty mechanism for such discussions – is useful only if each party’s delegation is authorized and willing to engage constructively.  In the past, U.S. officials’ efforts at engagement have been met by blanket Russian denials and baseless counterclaims.  That situation cannot continue.  The United States hopes that the Russian delegation to the next session will finally be empowered to engage on these issues substantively.  We want to start resolving these concerns and restoring value to the Treaty.  If the Russian side will work with us, we can prevent the reemergence of dangerous and destabilizing INF-prohibited systems, and restore the integrity of the arms control enterprise as a whole.

Does the U.S. still think that the INF treaty is important?  Could you foresee a situation where the U.S. could leave the treaty first?

The INF Treaty is very important.  Earlier this year, senior U.S. government officials met to review our position on the INF Treaty.  Despite the growth of intermediate-range missiles around the world, it is clear that the INF Treaty remains a valuable tool for ensuring stability and security in Europe and Asia.  The Trump Administration is committed to doing everything we can to preserve the integrity of the Treaty.  Our government is working toward this despite the Russian military’s clandestine development, production, and deployment of ground-launched cruise missiles that are in violation of its provisions.  As Secretary Tillerson said to Minister Lavrov, Russia must take the first step to restore trust and return to compliance with the Treaty.  This is important to restore faith in the ability of arms control as a means by which to control potentially very dangerous competitive arms race dynamics.  I firmly believe that if Russia takes concrete steps to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, this would go far towards rebuilding trust and improving the overall state of affairs between our governments.  I look forward to reinforcing this message next time I meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov.