Will the US nuclear missiles be fielded in Europe once again?

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On November 17, 2020 Manlio Dinucci, a famous Italian geographer, journalist and a geopolitical scientist, published in “The Manifesto” an article entitled as “The Art of War. Nuclear Euromissiles are Back” where he has warned of a possibility of the U.S. nuclear-tipped missiles’ deployment in Europe once again after the demise of the INF Treaty in August 2019 upon Washington’s insistence. He relied his predicament on the special contract signed on November 6, 2020 between Lockheed Martin and the US Army. His revelations have received critical remarks from Hans Kristensen, the well-known Danish nuclear arms researcher currently working at FAS.

While quoting the views expressed by these prominent authors, I would like to suggest my own comment in this case.

First, here is Manlio Dinucci’s article in full.

“Over five years ago, we titled in the Manifesto (9 June 2015) “Are missiles returning to Comiso? (Sicily).” This hypothesis was ignored by the entire political spectrum and dismissed by some self-styled expert as “alarmist.” The alarm, unfortunately, was well founded. A few days ago, on November 6, Lockheed Martin (the same company that produces the F-35s) signed a first $ 340 million contract with the US Army for the production of medium-range missiles, including those armed with nuclear warheads, designed to be installed in Europe. Missiles of this category (with a ground base and range between 500 and 5500 km) were prohibited by the INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan: it had eliminated the nuclear ballistic missiles Pershing 2, deployed by the United States in Western Germany, and the nuclear cruise Tomahawk missiles, deployed by the United States in Italy (Comiso, Sicily), Great Britain, West Germany, Belgium, and Holland, and at the same time the SS-20 ballistic missiles deployed by the Soviet Union on its territory.

In 2014, without any evidence, the Obama administration accused Russia of having tested a cruise missile (acronym 9M729) in the category prohibited by the Treaty, and, in 2015, announced that "faced with the violation of the INF Treaty by Russia, the United States is considering the deployment of ground-based missiles in Europe.”

The baton then passed to the Trump administration, which in 2019 decided on the withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty, accusing Russia of having “deliberately violated” it.

After some missile tests, Lockheed Martin was commissioned to build a cruise missile deriving from the Tomahawk and a ballistic missile deriving from Raytheon's SM-6. According to the contract, the two missiles will be operational in 2023: therefore, ready to be installed in Europe in two years.

The geographic factor should be kept in mind: while a medium-range US nuclear ballistic missile launched from Europe can hit Moscow in a few minutes, a similar missile launched by Russia can hit European capitals, but not Washington. Reversing the scenario, it is as if Russia were to deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Mexico.

It should also be noted that the SM-6  performs the function of "three missiles in one," as Raytheon specified: anti-aircraft, anti-missile and attack missile. The nuclear missile deriving from the SM-6 will therefore be able to be used by the US “shield” ships and land installations in Europe, their launch tubes, as Lockheed Martin specified, can launch “missiles for all missions.”

In his October 26, 2020 statement, President Putin reaffirmed the INF Treaty validity, calling the US withdrawal a “grave mistake,” and Russia's commitment not to deploy similar missiles, until the US deploys its own missiles close to Russian territory. He, therefore, proposed a “mutual moratorium” to NATO countries and “mutual verification measures,” that is inspections in the reciprocal missile installations.

The Russian proposal was ignored by NATO. Its secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg reiterated on 10 November that “in such an uncertain world, nuclear weapons continue to play a vital role in preserving peace.”

No voices were raised from European governments and parliaments, even though Europe risks being at a nuclear confrontation forefront similar or more dangerous than that of the Cold War. But this is not the threat of Covid 19, and therefore nobody talks of it.

The European Union, (21 over 27 members are part of NATO), has already made its voice heard when, in 2018 it rejected the resolution presented by Russia on the “Preservation and observance of the INF Treaty” at the United Nations, giving the green light to the installation of new US nuclear missiles in Europe.

Will anything change once Joe Biden takes office in the White House? Or, will Democrat Biden (formerly Obama’s vice president) sign the installation of the new US nuclear missiles in Europe, after Democratic Obama opened the new nuclear confrontation with Russia and Republican Trump aggravated it by tearing up the INF Treaty?”

On November 20, 2020 Hans Kristensen has observed that this article is wrong. In his words, “No contract has been signed “for the production of medium-range missiles, including those armed with nuclear warheads, designed to be installed in Europe.” The contract is for production of a prototype conventional missile for the Army. There are no plans to equip it with a nuclear warhead.

Nor will the missile have sufficient range to hit Moscow.”

In my personal view, the specific details of the contract mentioned by Manlio Dinucci have not been fully revealed: whether it is dealt with an INF-related missile in the form of a “prototype conventional missile” as Hans Kristensen has put it, or it is linked with a future nuclear-tipped missile as Manlio Dinucci has said. Nevertheless, I suspect that any U.S. prototype conventional missile can be easily converted into a real missile fitted with nuclear warheads. There will be no problem for its producer - the USA - to hammer it out.

In this context Moscow is worried about that Washington fully supported by NATO would deploy new nuclear medium-range missiles both in Asia Pacific Region and in Europe. It became clear from the U.S. ex-Defense Secretary Mike T. Esper’s remarks at the Atlantic Council dated October 20,2020 when he was Defense Secretary at that time.

He said: “But the Chinese have built an extensive array of well over a thousand missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the Pacific and the Russians have too, and they did it in violation of the INF Treaty. And we recognized this in NATO, we did it last year.  So, we were committed to making sure that we build similar capabilities for both theaters. But at the same time, we need to improve our missile defenses against those type of systems and others”.

On the basis of the U.S. 2018 NPR it looks like than newly-built U.S. medium-range missiles will have nuclear warheads, because from Donald Trump’s view to have them with conventional warhead would be irrational from the U.S. military perspective. And if such missiles will be able to cover the medium-range distance (1,000-5,500 km) they can easily hit the European part of Russia, including Moscow, plus Russian Far Eastern part if they are fielded in the APR.

Will President-elect Joe Biden return to the compliance with INF Treaty that is dead due to the U.S. withdrawal from it under an artificial pretext? The Russian 9M729 missile has maximum range 480 km that is less than any missile mentioned in the INF Treaty geographic limits. I think that Democratic front-runner will not come back to the INF Treaty if he becomes de jure and de facto the 46th U.S. President. The argument for this predicament is: the USA has never returned to the arms control treaties with the USSR or Russia it has scrapped. There has not been any such precedent. So, the INF Treaty cannot be revived by both Republican or Democratic Administrations. It has to be noted additionally that Washington has rejected Moscow’s offer to proclaim the moratorium on the deployment of the new INF-related nuclear missiles on bilateral basis.

So, the European and the Asia Pacific nations have to be vigilant: the additional U.S. nuclear threat may actually appear near their homes.

By Vladimir P. Kozin, Corresponding Member, Russian Academy of Military Sciences

 

23.11.2020
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