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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

In December of this year, the Russian-American treaty on the elimination of
intermediate- and shorter-range missiles (INF Treaty) may celebrate its
20th anniversary. Or it may not. Considering the position of Poland and the
Czech Republic, which are about to allow the Americans to install elements
of an anti-missile defense system on their soil, the Russian leadership may
well act on its recent threat to withdraw from that treaty. Such a step
will certainly have many repercussions.

In mid-February, Yury Baluyevsky, chief of Russia’s General Staff, said
that Russia might unilaterally pull out of the 1987 treaty. He directly
linked the possibility of that step with plans for the implementation of an
American anti-missile defense program for European countries.

For several years now the Russian military and political leadership has
been saying that it will give an asymmetrical, less expensive but very
effective answer to Washington’s anti-missile defense plans. It is no
secret that the reference is to systems, both existing and under
development, for penetrating anti-missile defenses with Russian
intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In principle there is nothing radical about this, despite the fact it pits
strategic offensive weapons against purely defensive armaments. Modernizing
the existing nuclear missile arsenal is indeed quite an understandable
asymmetrical answer to the appearance of global anti-missile systems. But
adding intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles to such an answer
in the future is not a very happy choice.

By the mid-1980s, efforts by the U.S.S.R. and the United States to deploy
intermediate- and shorter-range missiles had reached their peak and posed a
real threat to global security. In the middle of December 1985, the
Americans completed the deployment in Germany of all 108 planned Pershing-2
ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,800 kilometers. With an impressive
circular error probable of 20-40 meters, the missile could carry a nuclear
warhead with a regulated TNT equivalent of 50-100 kilograms. The target
approach time was about 14 minutes.

In addition, Britain (on two bases), Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and
West Germany deployed a total of about 500 GLCM/109G missiles with nuclear
warheads. The range of these missiles was 2,500 kilometers.

The U.S.S.R. could engage the probable enemy from several positioning areas
on its territory by deploying its famous Pioneer mobile ground-based
missile system, carrying an RSD-10 (SS-20) missile with a range of around
5,200 kilometers, i.e. the whole of Europe lay within its reach. There were
also plans to deploy this system in the country’s Far Eastern near-polar
region. In that case, most of the U.S. western seaboard would have been
vulnerable. And even that was not the whole story. In November 1983, a
decision was made to develop a new advanced Skorost mobile missile system,
which would be deployed in Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

But even under these circumstances, the U.S.’s tightening nuclear missile
noose compelled the U.S.S.R.’s leadership to hold negotiations on the
limitation of intermediate-range missiles.

In such a case it is hard to refrain from asking: why is the present
situation any different than the past? It is not, to put it mildly. Should
the Americans want to drop their rhetoric about the future of the INF
Treaty in favor of practice, they will have all of Western Europe at their
disposal. Speaking technically, an initial arrangement could be to replace
destroyed ground-launched cruise missiles with similar, but not banned,
ground-based SLCM/BGM-109A Tomahawk missiles (only mothballed in 1991)
equipped with nuclear warheads.

For Russia, however, the second episode in the saga of intermediate-range
missile deployment is one big question mark. Which plant will manufacture
the required number of missiles? The existing facility east of the Urals
chronically fails to cope even with the production of ICBMs ordered by the
state. What must be the procedure for condemning land for positioning areas
and where should they be located? How to provide the proper infrastructure
and bring units up to the necessary strength? How to ensure uninterrupted
command and control, including launching new communications and
reconnaissance satellites into orbit?

And last but not least: where is the war chest to help pay for all these
things? If we recognize that no magic wand has been found yet, then we’ll
have to cut back on existing national projects, and no one will be able to
choose which ones to axe.

Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s former defense minister, may have been right to
describe the INF Treaty as a relic. But all things old are not always worse
than what’s new.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.–0-