Yesterday, it was revealed that the Russian military (secretly) deployed the ground-launched SSC-8 cruise missile. Of course, the mainstream media attempted to spin this as a “major test” for President Trump:
Russia has secretly deployed a new cruise missile that American officials say violates a landmark arms control treaty, posing a major test for President Trump as his administration is facing a crisis over its ties to Moscow.
The new Russian missile deployment also comes as the Trump administration is struggling to fill key policy positions at the State Department and the Pentagon — and to settle on a permanent replacement for Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser who resigned late Monday. Mr. Flynn stepped down after it was revealed that he had misled the vice president and other officials over conversations with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington.
The NY Times made sure to lead with the Trump-bashing, and gave scant details and/or commentary on the specifics of the system, or its significance. Reuters filled in the key blank from the administration that the NY Times left out:
“We know that this is an old issue. The Russians have been building and testing these things in violation of the INF treaty going back to the Obama administration,” the official told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous to speak freely.
“The issue now is the things are deployed and it’s an even greater violation of the INF treaty,” the official added.
There’s the truth of the matter – the SSC-8 had been undergoing testing during the entire Obama administration, and they were powerless and/or unwilling to do anything about it, as Tyler Rogoway points out:
Since the treaty’s execution, both the US and Russia have concentrated their cruise missile arsenals to sea-based and air launched varieties, with the US throwing away its Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles and BGM-109G Gryphon cruise missiles based on the Navy’s Tomahawk. But in 2008, Russia began testing what US intelligence believed was a land-based cruise missile, possibly based on the Kalibr family of cruise missiles used by Russian naval units today. This was a blatant violation of the treaty, and the Obama administration worked to stop Russia’s testing of the missile in an effort to keep the treaty intact. The administration even floated the possibility of reconstituting America’s own ground-based cruise missile program in Europe as a reaction to Russia’s actions. Obviously these efforts proved futile and the fact that the SSC-8 is now operationally deployed leaves no room for interpretation as to Russia’s intentions.
The cheapest and safest way to counter new military capabilities is to stop their development before they become operational. President Obama failed miserably in this respect with the SSC-8, in the same way he failed to forestall China’s island-building campaign in the South China Sea or North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
You would think that deploying an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) like the SSC-8 would hardly be a game changer, given the ICBM/SLBM arsenals both the US and Russia currently operate. Again, Tyler Rogoway explains why this is significant, and most of this is because of the 1987 treaty that led the US and Russia to scrap IRBM missiles, and of which the SSC-8 is in direct violation of:
Russia, which has become an adept player at using their easily deployed missile systems— namely their S-400 air defense system, Iskander short-range ballistic missile system, and Bastion coastal defense system—as strategic “anti-access/area denial chess pieces in Syria, Crimea and in Europe. Yet all these systems have a range of less than 300 miles, treaty defined or not, giving them formidable but still limited reach.
If the SSC-8 were deployed among these systems, Russia could strike targets across entire continents, not just across a border or two. Considering Russia’s missile-heavy foreign policy playbook, you can see why such a capability would be attractive, especially in an effort to level the playing field against a coalition with advanced airpower and naval systems like NATO.
So the story that the mainstream media missed is obvious – the timing of the deployment. Why would Russia wait until Trump took office to deploy a missile system that violated arms treaties that had been tested extensively for over eight years?
The simplest explanation here comes from Trump’s own words:
President-elect Donald Trump suggested Friday that he is willing to engage in “an arms race,” insisting that the United States will surpass its rivals and “outlast them all” in a push for global weapons dominance.
“Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump said in a statement to “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC.
Trump’s assertion comes the day after he tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
But, why would Russia want a renewed arms race? Again, the answer is simple: they are planning to use the same strategy that the US used to defeat the Soviet Union – force the adversary to overspend. While it’s true that Russia cannot match the US dollar-for-dollar in military spending, they hardly need to.
The US is currently $20 trillion in debt (not counting Social Security / Pensions / other off-the-books unfunded liabilities), running an over $500 billion annual deficit, with a DoD that spends over $600 billion annually. This doesn’t even take into account wasteful programs like the F-35 and the Zumwalt-class destroyer which have wasted billions in DoD dollars while delivering suspect at best capabilities. Russia doesn’t need to outspend the US – deploying a few key systems, forcing Trump’s hand, and starting up another arms race would force the nation to spend funds it can ill-afford to spend.
And it’s not as though dropping out of an arms treaty is something new or ground-breaking – George W. Bush pulled the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002, so that the US could spend a fortune on the THAAD missile defense system, which has a questionable (at best) record at destroying (only a very limited number of) incoming ballistic warheads. Any protests lodged by the US or the rest of the world of Russia’s treaty violation will likely fall on deaf ears, and could even lead to Russia pulling out of the 1987 treaty altogether.
Meanwhile, Russia is doing whatever it can to force the US into spending an ever-increasing amount on national defense. Which is why it makes perfect sense that Russia has waited until just after Trump took office to deploy the system. Whether or not this deployment leads to a renewed arms race remains to be seen, but it sure appears as though Putin is trying to goad Trump into one.