APNSA John Bolton Interview with Elena Chernenko, Kommersant
October 22, 2018
Kommersant (K): Is it true that you came here to bury the INF Treaty?
Ambassador John Bolton (AJB): I’m meeting with Nikolai Patrushev and the staff of the Russian National Security Council. Actually, the first time that I met with the Russian National Security Council was before the Helsinki summit. I came to help lay the groundwork for the meeting between President Trump and President Putin. Patrushev was in South Africa, I think, at that time, so I met with his deputy and their colleagues. Patrushev and I actually met, I think, for the first time, in Geneva in August. But, in any event, this is the second post-Helsinki meeting. It was scheduled, gosh, over a month ago, six weeks ago maybe – convenient time for us to get together – so we came with a full agenda of issues. Many of them had been discussed in Geneva in August, certainly arms control and all the issues related to that, that we discussed in August and we’re planning to discuss here, even before the President’s remarks on Saturday.
K: So it’s not that you’re the messenger that has come here to discuss the details and how to get out of the treaty and what to do, then?
AJB: Well I think the President, speaking in Nevada on Saturday, made a very strong, very clear, very direct statement of his views and what the U.S. policy would be. It’s his decision as President to make on how to deal with the INF treaty and his decision on the timing of how to announce it. What I did today and will do this evening and will do tomorrow is explain the president’s thinking on this and talk about what the next steps might be.
K: Can you explain the thinking? What is the main reasoning behind the decision to leave the INF treaty?
AJB: Well, it’s been the view of the United States, five years ago or more, starting under President Obama, that Russia was in material breach of the INF treaty. That it was engaged in various missile system production and deployment that violated the terms of the treaty. The Obama administration had urged Russia to come back into compliance. The Trump administration had urged them to come back into compliance, but it became clear that, from Russian statements, that it didn’t believe it was in non-compliance; it didn’t believe it was in breach, including today. The position was very firmly announced by Russia that they did not believe they were breaching the INF treaty. In fact, they said, “you’re breaching the INF treaty.” So, as I said today, those who say, “well, it’s just an opening gambit by President Trump and that if only we could bring Russia into compliance, then we could continue with the treaty.” It’s kind of a logical impossibility. You can’t bring somebody into compliance who doesn’t think they’re in breach. And that’s just a reality that we face as the President said, “Here you have Russia doing what we believe is prohibited by the treaty and we’re not going to stand by and not be able to respond.” We don’t think that withdrawal from the treaty is what causes the problem. We think it’s what Russia has been doing in violation of the treaty that’s the problem. That’s one broad general point.
The second is that, nobody else in the rest of the world is bound by this treaty. Now, that’s not technically true, in the sense that the lawyers will tell you that the successor states to the Soviet Union, except for the three Baltics which we never recognized as part of the Soviet Union, were also bound when the Soviet Union dissolved, but these other eleven countries don’t have any ballistic missile capabilities really. So, as we saw it, there were only two countries in the world bound by an INF treaty. One of those two countries, Russia, was violating the treaty, which meant there was only one country in the world bound by the INF treaty and that was the United States. That’s just not acceptable. And, in reality, we see China, Iran, North Korea all developing capabilities which would violate the treaty if they were parties to it. So the possibility that could have existed fifteen years ago to enlarge the treaty and make it universal today just simply was not practical. The threat from China is very real, you can ask countries like Japan and South Korea, Taiwan, Australia how they feel about the Chinese capability and they’re very nervous about it. And many in Europe and around the Middle East are nervous about Iran’s capability. So this was, as the President explained in his statement on Saturday, that just leaves the U.S. in an untenable position and that’s why he announced his decision.
K: I’ve read an op-ed of yours from 2011 where you argued that the treaty has already outlived its usefulness and one should either change it or withdraw it. Back then, there was no Russian compliance issues, so one might think that the U.S. just looking for a pretext to get out of the treaty.
AJB: Well, you know, we haven’t met before, but I can tell you since I’ve been in this job for the last six months, a lot of reporters have said “ah, but in 2007 you wrote…” [K: You wrote a lot.] You said on T.V, this that and so on… Look, what I wrote or said, I wrote and said and I don’t back away from any of it, but my job now is not to be the national security decision-maker, my job is to be the National Security Advisor. And all of his principal advisors are agreed on this point, and the president, believe me, makes his own decisions.
K: Can Russia do anything to make the U.S. reverse its decision to withdraw?
AJB: Well, I think the President said, you know, if Russia were to dismantle all of its equipment in violation of the treaty and China did the same, that that would be a different circumstance. I think there’s zero chance of that happening.
K: And no chance to universalize the treaty? There was this initiative by the U.S. and Russia in 2007 to get other countries to support the treaty. Then it was not realized.
AJB: That was something I discussed when I was in the Bush administration as Undersecretary for Arms Control in 2001 – 2004. Perhaps if we had acted early enough, it might have been possible. But today, just as an example, somewhere between one-third and one-half of China’s total ballistic missile capability would violate the INF treaty. So, the chance they’re going to destroy, perhaps as much as a half of their ballistic missiles is just not realistic.
K: Does that mean that the U.S. is going to develop and deploy such weapons in Europe where they have short flight time to Russia and the same in Asia?
AJB: We haven’t made any decision on that, but I can tell you, and this is another anomaly in the treaty, a technological anomaly. Right now, sea-launched cruise missiles have a range covered by the INF treaty, but if those SLCMs, as they’re called, sea-launched cruise missiles, are on an American naval ship in the Baltic, they are not violative of the INF treaty. But, if they were moved ashore to Poland, they would be in violation. So, you know, this shows you’re in “an angels on the head of a pin” situation. And it’s not because of any feeling of concern for what may happen in terms of Russia in the short term. This is a much bigger problem for the United States on a global basis. We are concerned with Russian violations as they relate to the European theater, but we are also concerned with the East Asia theater, the South Asia theater, in the case of Iran, the Middle East. These are global issues that have led to our analysis of the problem.
K: We have seen the European reaction, some of the Allies voiced very loud concerns, like Germany and France, does it mean that the U.S. doesn’t care about those countries?
AJB: No, we’ve been in consultation with them. The British Defense Minister said they would stand resolute with the United States. [K: He was the only one] Well, that’s a very important country, given total defense expenditures. I believe Japan and others will support this. And so, this is something we’re going to be in consultation with the NATO allies about. As I say, we’ve already started that process and will continue to do that.
K: The Russian reaction was just as negative. I saw that Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said the U.S. is blackmailing Russia.
AJB: That’s simply not true, I mean, let’s go back to the beginning. It’s Russian violations of the treaty, in our view, that have gotten us this to this point, and it’s something that’s been going on for five years, if not more.
K: Your Russian counterpart Patrushev probably told you about Russian concerns on this treaty from the U.S. side. Did you have any arguments to convince him?
AJB: We have more lawyers per capita in the Pentagon than any country in the world in its defense ministry, and they stand shoulder to shoulder with their yellow pads in their hands and saying, “no, no, no.” So I’m very confident we’re not violating the INF treaty.
K: Let me ask about the new START treaty, has the U.S. made a decision to extend the treaty?
AJB: No, we haven’t, and we did discuss new START today. You know, it doesn’t expire until early 2021, so I don’t think we’re really pressed for time. I’m a veteran arms control negotiator myself and I can tell you that many, many of the key decisions are made late in the negotiations anyway, so I don’t feel that we’re pressed for time. And right now the United States is considering internally what our position will be. One of the points we thought was important was to resolve the INF issue first, so we knew what the lay the land was on the strategic weapon side. So, we’re talking about it internally. I did try and discuss with Nikolai Patrushev and the others, some of what our thinking was. We’re trying to be open about different aspects of looking at new START and other arms control issues as well.
K: Just one last question: have you discussed here or are you going to discuss here the possible future meeting between the two presidents and when can it take place?
AJB: Yes, we did discuss that, and I have laid out for Secretary Patrushev what some of the possibilities were. He said he would report that to President Putin and I think, I won’t step on President Putin’s decision, but perhaps he’ll have something to say in the near future.
K: Paris and Buenos Aires were in the press for possible places
AJB: Well you’ve detected two the next places where they will both be. We could also see a fuller meeting like Helsinki somewhere else as well.
K: Thank you very much.
AJB: Thank you.