- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Trump administration’s abandonment of a key Cold War-era nuclear treaty won’t do much to counter Russian military provocations and information warfare around the world, according to a new national security policy report that says the White House would be wise to focus more on a strategy of exploiting Moscow’s economic and political weaknesses.

The report, led by a former high-level diplomat in the George H.W.Bush and George W. Bush administrations, argues that Washington’s looming threat to fully do away with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of Russian cheating is likely to end up costing the U.S. more than Russia.

Ending the INF Treaty “might be advantageous vis-à-vis China, which is not bound by the agreement, but would be of little added benefit against Russia, given that U.S. sea-and air-based cruise missiles, which are unconstrained, can cover the same targets while remaining less vulnerable to Russian counter battery fire,” states the report, which was circulated Wednesday by the RAND Corporation, a prominent California-headquartered think tank.

Lead author James Dobbins, who served as U.S. ambassador the European Union in the early-1990s and as assistant secretary of state for European Affairs in 2001, noted that a total collapse of the INF Treaty would open the possibility of new competition toward deploying ground-based intermediate-range missiles to Europe.

“While Russia would bear the cost of this increased competition less easily than the United States, both sides would have to divert national resources from other purposes,” Mr. Dobbins said in a statement circulated with the report.

The Trump administration announced on Feb. 2 that it had suspended U.S. adherence to the INF with plans to pull completely out of the treaty in six months because of ongoing Russian cheating, specifically Moscow’s deployment of the so-called Novator 9M729 cruise missile that Washington has long-claimed violates the treaty’s range limits.

While the INF’s impending collapse has alarmed arms control advocates around the world, the Trump administration’s arguments have won major support, including from NATO and from key Republicans on Capitol Hill. And, Pentagon officials are reported to be planning tests this summer of U.S. missiles that have ranges exceeding the treaty’s limits.

Away from the INF issue, the RAND report said Moscow’s use of information warfare and conventional military arsenal make it a formidable opponent, but that the Russian state has significant weaknesses that could be exploited through strategic nonviolent measures to stress Russia’s military, economy and the political standing of President Vladimir Putin’s regime at home and abroad.

The goal, according to a summary circulated by RAND, would be to “cause Russia to compete in domains or regions where the United States has a competitive advantage – driving Russia to overextend itself militarily or economically or causing the regime to lose domestic and/or international prestige and influence.”

Russia’s greatest vulnerability is its economy, which is comparatively small and highly dependent on energy exports. The Russian leadership’s greatest anxiety concerns the stability and durability of the regime,” the summary said. “These include economic pressures, ideological and informational initiatives, geopolitical maneuvers, and military steps on land, sea, and in air and space.”

Asserting that economic sanctions have already caused a significant drop in the living standards of many Russian citizens, the summary argued that “expanding American energy production is probably the least costly and least risky way to further stress the Russian economy,” while also “imposing tougher sanctions.”

“Recent Russian efforts to subvert Western democracies provide a powerful rationale for some sort of counter campaign to serve as retribution, reestablish a degree of deterrence in this domain, and create the basis for a mutual stand-down in such activities,” it said. “In the aerospace domain, strong contenders for a cost-imposing strategy against Russia include investments in long-range cruise missiles, long-range anti-radiation missiles and — if they prove affordable enough to be produced in high numbers — autonomous or remotely piloted aircraft.”

The report, titled “Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground,” also argues that a deployment of land-based or air-launched anti-ship cruise missiles on NATO’s Black Sea coast could compel Russia to strengthen defenses of its Crimean bases, limit its navy’s ability to operate in the Black Sea, and thus diminish the utility of its Crimean conquest.

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