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Cotton Warns Russia to Comply with INF Treaty in CSIS Speech

July 17, 2017

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt (202) 224-2353

Thank you very much. Thank you for the warm welcome, and Andrew, thank you for the kind introduction. Also, I want to thank the Center for Strategic and International Studies for hosting us.

Before I get to the topic at hand-the Russia threat in Europe-I also want to express briefly what I know is everyone's best wishes for a speedy recovery to my friend, John McCain. I was as startled as any of you to learn about his hasty surgery over the weekend, but also as grateful as any of you to hear the prediction of a full recovery. In the meantime, I guess this means I'm going to have to start raising twice as much hell in the Senate as I normally do to make up for Senator McCain's absence.

But perhaps expressing best wishes for Senator McCain isn't a digression from the topic of Russia at all. After all, he never overlooked the threat that Russia poses to the West. Unlike many Western politicians for the last 17 years, Senator McCain clearly saw the K, the G, and the B in Vladimir Putin's eyes.

For it's a serious mistake to think the Cold War was sui generis.

Yes, the Soviet Union layered an aggressive global ideology over the old Russia Problem, but that problem remains with us today, as it always will be. It's far from a coincidence, I would suggest, that an old KGB officer took power in Russia less than a decade after the Soviet empire disbanded. Therefore, the history of the Soviet era in U.S.-Russian relations remains vitally important, today.

And we're approaching the 30-year anniversary of a very important moment in that era, the ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Thirty years on, it's still a remarkable achievement of President Reagan's statecraft: not merely imposing numerical limits on weapons systems, but eliminating an entire class of weapons, namely, land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Those missiles pose unusually high risks in Europe. They can be stockpiled and moved rapidly, making them difficult to monitor. And they cut warning time from launch down to just a few minutes, in contrast to intercontinental missiles. So it was deeply provocative when the Soviet Union deployed such missiles into Eastern Europe in the late 1970s.

NATO had no choice but to respond. President Carter began the planning steps and President Reagan carried them out by deploying American-built missiles to Europe in 1983. A decision, I should add, that was protested widely in the United States and Europe-protests that were funded in no small part by the KGB. For the next four years, the two sides jockeyed at the negotiating table until they finally reached an agreement.

Today, Vladimir Putin and Russian strategic thinkers remain ambivalent about the INF Treaty in my opinion. On the one hand, Russia benefits more from the INF Treaty than does the United States. After all, we don't worry about missile threats from Canada or Mexico, and the deployment of intermediate-range missiles to Cuba would plainly breach the understanding reached after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the United States will not accept offensive weapons stationed on that island.

Russia, by contrast, is the vast land power of Eurasia, with potential rivals in close proximity. By eliminating these missiles from Europe, Russia gained security in the most likely theater of a general war from the superpower most capable of striking its territory-the United States.

On the other hand, the INF Treaty applies only to the United States and Russia, so countries on the Eurasian perimeter-and here I speak in particular of China-have complete freedom to deploy intermediate-range missiles. Moreover, the lack of these missiles in Russia's arsenal, deprives Russia of a potent tool to gain leverage in its near abroad, as it always seeks to do.

Vladimir Putin has resolved this ambivalence in a simple way: cheating on the INF treaty. By State Department accounts, Russia has been testing a new cruise missile that can strike Western Europe since at least 2008, at least 9 years. In fact, the Obama administration repeatedly warned the Kremlin to cease and desist. The State Department formally declared Russia in violation of the treaty in 2014-and every year thereafter. Yet, they never followed up in any meaningful way. So it's no surprise that, according to media reports, Russia has deployed two battalions of road-mobile intermediate-range cruise missiles.

Vladimir Putin is therefore eating his cake and getting to have it, too. Russia remains secure in the European theater by the absence of U.S. cruise missiles, while Putin has developed a new missile that counteracts China, threatens the small countries on his periphery, and divides NATO politically.

The truth is, though, this is nothing new for Russia-whether in the Soviet or the Putin era. The Russians take a hard-eyed view of the treaties they sign. Does a treaty serve their interests? If it does, then they abide by it. If it doesn't, then they don't. The Soviets signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972, for instance, because it served their interests: U.S. technology was more advanced and if we developed an effective missile-defense system, their nuclear deterrent wouldn't deter that much.

But that didn't stop the Russians from pushing their luck. For years, they maintained a large, phased-array radar that plainly violated the ABM treaty. The U.S. protested until the Soviet Union finally agreed to dismantle that radar-seven years after we first detected it. From their perspective, the treaty and this violation was a bargaining chip. To the Russians, any treaty is just another point of leverage, especially against NATO-not an inviolable commitment.

I would suggest it's time we look at the INF Treaty in the same way. Beyond what our current commitments are, we should ask ourselves what should they be? What set of commitments will protect our national security? And how should we adapt our current commitments to our current needs?

For the time being, it's probably best to try to preserve the INF Treaty-but only if Russia comes back into compliance promptly and verifiably. But the only way to save the INF Treaty is to show the Russians that we will walk away from it, if they don't come back into compliance. Putin's calculus is very simple: he gains more than he loses by violating the treaty. So we should reverse that calculus by making it more costly for Russia to violate the treaty than to uphold its commitments.

That's why I've introduced the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Preservation Act, which would direct the Pentagon to take four immediate steps to apply pressure to Russia.

First, develop a new, intermediate-range cruise missile, backed up with $100 million in investment. Under the treaty, we cannot test, produce, or possess land-based intermediate-range missiles. But we can conduct research on how to improve other missiles, such as extending their range or adapting them for different environments. For instance, we could develop a land-based version of the Tomahawk, which we usually launch from Navy ships. This kind of research stays well within the four corners of the INF Treaty, but also prepares us and our allies in case the treaty becomes obsolete.

I'm pleased to say that the National Defense Authorization Act recently voted out of the Armed Services Committee includes $65 million for this program. I understand some of my Democratic colleagues intend to offer an amendment on the floor to remove this provision. I welcome-actually, I relish-this debate on the Senate floor. We'll see how many Democrats who've discovered their inner Cold Warrior in the last six months are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Second, authorize $500 million in funding for developing new defense capabilities. To put it bluntly, if Russia is going to develop a new missile, then we should develop new ways to shoot it down. This would neutralize the advantage Russia seeks by violating the INF Treaty. For instance, we could speed up our deployment of sea- and land-based missile-defense sites.

Third, facilitate the transfer of cruise-missile technology to our allies. As I've noted, only the United States and Russia signed this treaty; no other country did. So even if we can't build intermediate missiles, that doesn't mean our allies cannot. And it also doesn't mean we cannot help them. For instance, the Polish government has been acquiring air-launched cruise missiles for some time. I suspect Warsaw might be interested in ground-launched cruise missiles as well, which I further suspect might make the Kremlin less keen on ripping up the INF Treaty.

Finally, we would present Russia with a very simple choice: either you observe the INF Treaty, or we won't renew our commitments to other treaties. Specifically, the legislation would prohibit further funding for two treaties that Russia wants to preserve. The first is an extension of the New START Treaty, which imposes greater limits on our strategic nuclear forces than on Russia's. The second is the Open Skies Treaty, which Russia needs more for overhead imagery intelligence than we do. If the Russians won't keep their INF commitments, why should the United States continue other treaties that benefit them?

These proposals are sensible steps consistent with our treaty obligations and measured responses to Russian provocations. For we must remember, Russia's violations of the INF Treaty aren't isolated, but rather part of a pattern of provocative behavior, whether it's annexing Crimea, or meddling in our elections, or assaulting our diplomats in Moscow, or harboring Edward Snowden, or buzzing American ships and aircraft, or giving aid to the Taliban, and providing the missiles that were used three years ago today to shoot down a civilian aircraft out of the sky. Russia is deliberately probing our defenses all around the globe. They're looking for weak spots, which is why every provocation must be met with a firm and unyielding response.

Put simply, we remain in strategic competition with Russia, and intermediate-range missiles are just one part of the central element of that competition-military modernization. Russia has engaged in a breakneck pace of modernization under Putin, and it's essential that we modernize our military if we hope to maintain overmatch against Russia. Perhaps you've heard our Army generals say NATO is outgunned and outranged in Europe. Well, what they're talking about are the very weapons systems that are banned by the INF Treaty. So even if we do remain in the INF Treaty, we urgently need to modernize our military and especially the Army, which would do the brunt of any fighting in Europe. This is why the report being released by CSIS today is so important, and why I encourage everyone to read it carefully.

Of course, we also have to remember that we're in strategic competition with countries besides Russia. The INF Treaty was a landmark agreement 30 years ago. But the world we now inhabit is very different from that world. For one thing, it's not a two-power world anymore.

When Reagan and Gorbachev shook hands over the INF Treaty, China was beginning its free-market reforms, Iran was locked in a war of attrition with Iraq, neither India nor Pakistan was a nuclear power, and just two years before-hard as it may be to believe-North Korea had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Thus, the time is coming to consider whether the United States should stay in the INF Treaty even if Russia came back into compliance. As I've noted, no other country is a party to the treaty. As a result, our troops and our allies in the Asia Pacific face an increasingly aggressive China with more than 90 percent of its missile forces falling into the intermediate range. Yet Pacific Command and our allies lack a single ground-based intermediate-range missile to hold mainland China at risk. Though this question can be left to another day, the United States cannot afford to take a one-dimensional view of old treaties because the threats we face are no longer one-dimensional.

What we certainly cannot afford is to stand by like chumps while Vladimir Putin cheats on the INF Treaty openly and notoriously. Russia, as it always does, is consistently marshalling strategic advantage against the United States through a series of incremental provocations calculated to operate just below the threshold of retaliation. Deploying an intermediate-range cruise missile is perhaps the most provocative step as yet, because it would eventually allow Russia to hold all our bases, all our troops, and all our allies in Eurasia at risk.

The time has come to put an end to this. If we cannot compel the bear to return to its den, we can at least lay painful traps in its path around the world.

Thank you all.