I guess Senator Inhofe comes down on the “Putin is Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot times 1000” side of The Great Republican Putin Debate, not the “man I wish Putin was president of America” side. Well, I guess it’s possible that Inhofe would agree with the “Putin is the most evil man who ever lived but I STILL wish he were president of America” line of thinking that Fox seems to be propagating lately, but anyway the point is he’s not a fan. He’s especially upset that Russia is reportedly violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by testing a new ground-launched cruise missile. Of course, being a Republican in Congress, Inhofe’s real anger is reserved not for Putin himself for violating (again, allegedly) the treaty, but at Barack Obama for, uh, letting him, I guess? Because Russia always asks permission before it does stuff like this?
President Obama. Not only did Russia violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, it did so while negotiating with the Obama administration over New START, a 2010 arms reduction treaty. The White House was at best naïve to Russian duplicity; at worst it was complicit.
At worst naïve, at best complicit. Are you sure there’s no third option there, Senator, like “Russia is a sovereign country with an already imposing nuclear arsenal, and sometimes sovereign countries do bad things about which America cannot necessarily do anything, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to work with them on other things”?
In October 2007, the Guardian reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin was considering withdrawal from the INF Treaty. “It will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of the treaty in a situation where other countries develop such weapons systems, and among those are countries in our near vicinity,” Putin said, perhaps in a veiled reference to Pakistan and China’s midrange nuclear weapons technology.
The reference wasn’t all that veiled, to be honest, and even national security-types on the right have noted that the biggest threat to the INF Treaty is that China isn’t a party to it. But, just to head off what I’m sure Senator Inhofe would say about that, there’s probably no way for anybody to force China to join the INF Treaty.
So the real source of Inhofe’s ire is that Obama negotiated New START while knowing that Putin planned to violate the INF Treaty. In other words, Vladimir V. Putin, sooooper genius, got Obama to give up part of America’s strategic nuclear edge while already planning to unilaterally boost Russia’s tactical nuclear edge over NATO and other regional powers. Obama got rolled. Except, and you’d be forgiven for losing sight of this point given how blithely Inhofe writes about this stuff, we’re talking about weapons that could eradicate human civilization, and despite New START, we’re still deploying 1585 of them. That seems like, you know, enough.
Inhofe claims that Russia is also violating the INF Treaty with its development of the RS-26, whose range is right in the zone for weapons banned by the treaty but which is technically an ICBM, which the treaty doesn’t affect. This is more of a “spirit of the treaty” violation, which, hey, you could say the same thing about every nuclear-tipped air- and submarine-launched cruise missile in the US arsenal. But I digress.
It seems to me that Senator Inhofe is pretty collected, considering that the premise of his piece is that Russia is planning on starting a nuclear war and his worry is that America won’t be able to destroy enough of the planet in retaliation to suit his tastes. He’s got some ideas for reining Russia in (or “ideas for reining Russia in”):
First, we should expand U.S. homeland missile defense capabilities, particularly to address the threat posed by Russia’s air- and sea-launched cruise missiles. Second, we should reinstate funding to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons, which have suffered delays caused by funding shortfalls over the past three years, and perhaps even develop new nuclear systems to counter the GLCM. Finally, we should consult with NATO and other allies about increasing regional missile defenses, especially to contend with the new Russian GLCM. The Department of Defense should also conduct a reassessment of America’s nuclear posture to ensure our force is survivable against Russia’s new shorter-range nuclear threats and nuclear strategy.
Well, let’s see: missile defense doesn’t actually work, and that’s when we’re talking about ICBMs, which fly real high, go more or less in a straight line, and take a relatively long time to reach their target, not cruise missiles, which are much faster, reach the target much quicker, and can actually maneuver in flight. So strike ideas 1 and 3, except insofar as we’re planning to throw more money at defense contractors for stuff that doesn’t work (which, now that I think about it, may be the point). Idea 2 is essentially that the US should pull out of the INF Treaty too, because I guess that’ll show ’em. I mean, sure, pull out of the treaty and go nuts, but that’s not going to deter Putin, and since, at the risk of repeating myself, we’re talking about nuclear fucking weapons, a few hundred more here or there aren’t really going to make that much difference anyway. Russia should pay a price for violating its treaty obligations, as should any country that violates a treaty it’s signed, but these “ideas” aren’t going to accomplish much.
I want to pause here for a second, because having mentioned the US decision to break the ABM Treaty in 2002, it’s worth noting that you can probably draw a straight line from that decision to Russia’s decision to break the INF Treaty. After all, if your greatest potential threat breaks his pledge not to deploy a particular defensive system — even if, again, said defensive system doesn’t actually work — then it makes sense to start looking for ways around that system, even if it means breaking a pledge or two of your own. Also worth noting? Who supported that particular treaty violation:
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) also termed the move historic, but for a different reason, enthusiastically declaring June 13 that the United States “is no longer handcuffed to a policy that intentionally leaves its own people defenseless to missile attack.” Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and James Inhofe (R-OK) also released statements supporting Bush’s act.
Well, I’m sure Senator Inhofe’s hypocrisy can be explained here, something about American Exceptionalism or whatever. Now, that same senator, who suddenly thinks that upholding treaties is important, wants make sure that, if there’s gonna be a nuclear war, America will be able to do its share of nukin’. That’s just fabulous.