Signs are emerging that Russia may soon pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. Should this occur, Russia would be free to build and deploy missiles that could directly threaten targets as far away as Iceland with nuclear or conventional weapons,providing Russia the ability to target the whole of Europe.
The consequences of this would be both dire and destabilizing; leading to a spiral of escalation. Russia’s Iskander missiles are designed to evade modern air defenses and destroy hardened targets like bunkers and airfields. Currently, NATO does not have a system that can reliably destroy these weapons. The mass deployment of Russian missiles would cause a fear of an air defense gap and missile gap; even if these weapons were not equipped with nuclear warheads.
In the panic created by a pullout NATO may decide that rearmament with intermediate range missiles is the best course of action to match the Russians. Such a rearmament could happen rapidly and abruptly. Many nations already have short and intermediate range missiles based on ships and bombers. The United States, for example, has the Tomahawk and JASSM-ER cruise missiles already active on destroyers and cruisers.
In my view, this would be a destructive and dangerous path to go down, creating the foundation for both a new arms race between the United States and Russia and a nuclear standoff between the two powers. It is also an unnecessary path, as there are other ways to protect our allies for intermediate range missiles besides parallel escalation and total rearmament.
One of the reasons Russia would pursue intermediate range missiles like the Iskander-k would be to create friction within NATO. This new threat would be employed to coerce members of the alliance.
Russia has already given us a preview of what this would like. Just recently, Putin threatened Poland and Romania with strikes because they agreed to let NATO build parts of a missile defense system in their countries.
To mitigate this threat, the first focus for NATO nations should be air defense. Point and area defense systems should be introduced and built up to offset the missile threat.The more reliable NATO’s intermediate missile defense is the less influence Russia will have.
Systems like the Patriot, Iron Dome, and IFPC could provide enhanced protection to European cities and key military installations. Most of these systems are already fully developed and could be easily fielded on preexisting bases.
Another way to fight this threat is to match it. In this case, the match does not have to be symmetrical. The geography of Europe doesn’t require NATO to field intermediate weapons. The Russians do not have as much strategic depth as the last time these weapons were deployed to Europe. An equivalent to the Perishing II is not necessary or advisable. The current short range MGM-140 ATACMS is sufficient provide counterforce capability against the Russian missiles if it could be based in eastern Europe.
The ATACMS is the rough equivalent of Russia’s Iskander. It is a quasi-ballistic missile designed to defeat air defense systems by maneuvering outside a predictable flight path. Although it only has a 300 km range, such a missile would be able to strike most missile bases in Russia’s from within NATO’s borders.Russian Intermediate missile are currently suspected to be based in Luga; well within range of the ATACMS.
Basing M142 and M270 MLRS systems in the Baltics, Romania and Poland would give the the U.S the ability to retaliate against Russia missiles and reassure members of the alliance closest to the threat.
A follow-on missile called the LRPF is expected to extend this to 500 km; the limit of the INF treaty. Such a missile could threaten targets as far away as Smolensk and the Russian naval base at Sevastopol.
For longer range targets in Russia’s Caucasus like Rostov and Stalin…I mean Volgograd, NATO warships in the Black Sea or fighter/bombers armed with JASSM cruise missiles stationed in Turkey are perfectly capable of attacking those targets with ease. A tomahawk has enough range to strike the Russia base at Volgograd from the Sea of Manama, Beyond Istanbul.
Whatever the scenario, America already has the tools to deal with a rearmed Russia. The addition of more air defense would help secure vital NATO assets while the deployment of short range missile will provide counterforce capability. Because of Russia’s decreased strategic depth since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the United States does not need to deviate from it’s current missile development path. NATO’s current missiles are up to job if they are deployed correctly.