- - Wednesday, February 6, 2019

President Trump has announced that, unless the Russians reverse their violations of essential and “material” provisions of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Force arms control treaty (INF) signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, we will withdraw from the treaty in six months.

Vladimir Putin quickly announced Russia is also withdrawing from the treaty as a “symmetric response,” no doubt designed to deflect attention away from Russian major violations of the INF treaty over the last decade and to provoke a siren call from the international arms control community — as did the “nuclear freeze” and related Soviet propaganda in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Mr. Trump should resist this call on its merits — as did Ronald Reagan — and in marked contrast to the Obama administration that at most had only “protested” Russian violations — and even then, usually privately. Obviously, such “protests” were not taken seriously by the Russians.

Ironically perhaps, Russia’s behavior has returned us to the conditions that led to our initial INF missile deployments [Pershing II and GLCM systems] in Europe — which were in response to the Soviet SS-20 INF missile deployments that began in the late 1970s.

Our INF missile deployment and NATO-based response to the SS-20’s, along with President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and Strategic Modernization Program, were instrumental in achieving the 1987 INF agreement in the first place.

In particular, we should again commit to building space-based ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems to counter such threats. And in this context, we should recall that Reagan walked out of the 1986 Reykjavik Summit because Soviet General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev demanded we restrict our research on such systems to the laboratory.

Mr. Reagan’s insistence on continuing space-based BMD research (and associated SDI technology demonstrations) made it clear to the Soviets that they could not compete with American technology and thus set the stage for subsequent and historic arms control treaties, including the INF Treaty.

We need again to demonstrate this reality to Russia. In particular, we need to reinstate key SDI programs that were curtailed by congressional Democratic leaders during the George H.W. Bush administration and completely scuttled in 1993 by the Clinton administration for purely political reasons — and that have remained dormant ever since.

Even after President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 and initiated a ground-based homeland defense system, his administration did nothing to revive those most important space-based BMD efforts (or related and supporting technology efforts) that were at the very heart of Mr. Reagan’s SDI program.

This reaction may have surprised the Russians; in any case, they have subsequently focused on an entire field of new offensive technologies against which we have taken no countervailing response — until Mr. Trump’s Space Force and other related policies.

While avoiding “new” arms control that Mr. Putin will simply join while deploying new intermediate and strategic technologies, Mr. Trump should “get their attention” with robustly funded new technology programs, including new NATO basing concepts for systems heretofore limited by the INF Treaty.

In short, Mr. Putin must conclude that his own INF violations have put Russia at increased risk.

Accordingly, the absolute worst thing we can do is to require funding for new technology strategic and INF systems be contingent on new arms control discussions with the Russians. Mr. Putin will love this, and we will get absolutely nothing for it — no new systems and absolutely no leverage in negotiations. In fact, we fully expect Mr. Putin to propose new negotiations because he knows we don’t do arms control very well.

What kinds of systems and technologies must we now pursue?

Fortunately, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin — an exceptional aerospace engineer and former NASA administrator — understands today’s cutting-edge technologies and was an active participant in the formative SDI years.

Indeed, as SDI’s deputy director for technology, he was present when the first SDI system survived an intense series of technical reviews in 1989-90 to enter a fully approved demonstration and validation (“DemVal”) program. It was a space-based interceptor program, called “Brilliant Pebbles.”

The Pentagon office charged with providing independent system cost estimates for the acquisition authorities judged it would cost $10 billion in 1988 dollars (with inflation, now $20 billion) to develop, deploy and operate for 20 years a constellation of 1000 Brilliant Pebbles.

That system was assessed to have a high probability (well over 90 percent) of intercepting all of 200 attacking re-entry vehicles — much more capability than any currently or planned operating BMD system.

Mr. Griffin not only knows about cutting-edge SDI technologies of the programs he led, but he also understands the best of today’s technology that can assure even more cost-effective defenses.

The Missile Defense Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) work for him and can demonstrate those technologies. Moreover, assuming that the prospective Space Development Agency is established, it should also report to him.

Thus, he can lead efforts to achieve Ronald Reagan’s vision for an effective space-based defense in the near future. Such an effective defense should be complemented with other programs to upgrade our offensive strategic and tactical forces armed with modernized nuclear warheads.

The American people will benefit more from such development and deployment than from any arms control agreement — past or likely future.

• Henry F. Cooper and Daniel J. Gallington served in a series of senior national security related positions, including the Nuclear and Space talks with the Soviet Union that led to the INF Treaty.

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