- - Monday, February 3, 2014

There is an oft-proven adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

When our nation — under administrations of both parties — has been fooled, first by the Soviets, and more recently by the Russians, on virtually every arms-control accord we have signed with them, however, it is not simply shameful. It is evidence of systematic official malfeasance.

Last week, The New York Times reported that one of the United States’ most egregious arms-control malpractitioners, acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, recently (and reluctantly) briefed NATO about a new threat to the alliance.

It is a Russian ground-launched cruise missile, designated the R-500, which is capable of flying more than 1,200 miles and could be used to target not just U.S. allies and bases in Europe, but also in Asia.

This sort of threat is, of course, something supposedly eliminated by the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987.

The stated purpose of that accord was to rid Washington’s and Moscow’s arsenals of an entire class of nuclear and conventionally armed ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles.

Russia’s testing of the R-500, reportedly since 2008, constitutes a deliberate and serious violation of that accord.

Such cheating isn’t surprising. It is standard operating procedure for the Kremlin. Warnings were issued during the Reagan administration’s negotiation of the INF accord that Moscow could exploit its defects to field prohibited ground-launched cruise missiles.

Neither is it surprising that the U.S. government has yet to find the Russians in violation of the INF Treaty.

Even in the Reagan administration, untold numbers of interagency meetings, briefings and memoranda were generated to consider whether the then-Soviet Union had violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by building a massive missile-tracking radar where one was clearly not allowed to be.

The Krasnoyarsk radar, moreover, was just one unmistakable indication of a vast array of prohibited territorial missile defenses the Kremlin had stealthily put in place.

Yet it took two more decades before an American president, George W. Bush, would withdraw from the ABM Treaty to deploy our own, albeit quite limited, anti-missile system. There is no indication that the Obama administration is contemplating repudiation of the INF accord.

Vladimir Putin knows, moreover, that once the Americans sign onto an arms-control agreement, they will observe not just its letter, but its spirit — often taken to absurd lengths.

Perhaps the most egregious example is the U.S. restraint in observing an accord that it has yet to ratify: the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We conduct absolutely no nuclear tests, while Russia — which is a party to the treaty — continues to conduct low-yield ones.

For these reasons, Russian cheating like that underway with the INF Treaty not only means that Moscow is acquiring a new capability to threaten our allies and interests.

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