After the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union and the United States were on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe, both parties apparently realized the need for some nuclear arms control measures. The Intermediate-Rage Nuclear Forces Treaty [INF], which came into force in December 1987, requires that both the Soviet Union and the United States eliminate their ground-launched, nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles of ranges between 500-5500 km.
In recent times, however, both parties to the treaty, the United States and Russia, have accused one another of failure to comply with it.
The U.S. has apparently been "concerned" regarding Russia's compliance with the treaty since 2011.
In July 2014, reports stated that Russia had test-fired intermediate range cruise missiles of the model called the R-500 or the Iskander-K, and prohibited under the INF treaty. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, called this violation "cheating" that could put the United States and its allies in East Asia and Europe "at risk."
A camouflaged unit of the Russian R-500 (Iskander-K) missile system.
The U.S. seems justifiably alarmed by Russia's violation of the treaty. U.S. President Barack Obama rated this violation "a very serious matter." NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Philip M Breedlove, also claimed that the tests should not go "unanswered" and that they will be "dealt with."
President Obama, however, wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin noting that the U.S. would still not violate the INF treaty by deploying the prohibited INF-range missile systems.
According to former Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker, for the United States to respond to Russian violations of the treaty by pulling out of it would be "welcome in Moscow," which is "wrestling with the question of how they terminate [the treaty]" and thus, the United States should not make it easier for the Russians to leave.
In addition, Russia also tested its RS-26 Rubezh ICBM several times for distances of about 2000 km, a range not permitted under the treaty.
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, responded that the RS-26 missile is a "new type" of ICBM [missiles with range of 5500 km and above] -- and not a prohibited intermediate range missile -- and thus "legally unconstrained" by the treaty.
Aleksey Arbatov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, chimed in that the missile is "technically beyond suspicion" and that the maximum range of the missile is 5700 km. A missile with range of 5700 km falls under the ICBM category and not under the intermediate range category. Another Russian military political analyst, Andrey Koshin, added that the United States had "used" the alleged violation "to boost global tensions in the background of the Ukrainian crisis and sanctions imposed on Russia."
And the Russian Foreign Ministry alleged that U.S. claims that Russia violated the treaty are based on "warped logic," and made "with little or no evidence."
Russia, according to Russia Today, believes it faces threats -- allegedly emanating from China, India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea -- from medium range missiles.
Russia also might be concerned about the inclusion of Japan in the U.S. missile defense strategy. As Russia's defense minister stated during the first joint conference ever between Russia and Japan in November 2013, "We made no secret of the fact that the creation by the U.S, of a global missile defence system, including a Japanese element, is causing us grave concern, primarily over the possible destruction of the strategic balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region."
Russia has, however, been provoking clashes with Japan by claiming ownership Japan's Kurile Islands. Japan does not possess ballistic missiles at present, however its space capabilities involve several technologies "that could potentially be adapted to develop long range missiles."
Russia has also appeared "concerned" regarding the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, under the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The director of the department of non proliferation and arms control at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mikhail Ulyanov, evidently assuming that this missile defense system could negate Russia's nuclear deterrent capability, has announced that such a policy "can undermine strategic stability."
Despite U.S. assurances that the missile defense system is not intended to be against Russia, but possibly against Iran, Putin, apparently not feeling reassured, has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the treaty.
"Missile defence systems [in Europe] are defensive only in name" Putin said. He added that these systems are a significant component of a "strategic offensive potential," and that this missile defense deployment was an attempt by the U.S. to "create a new stage of American superiority in Europe" and "neutralize" Russia's nuclear potential.
Russia has also accused the United States of testing Hera missiles, which it claims are medium-range missiles. The production and flight-testing of these, under the Article 6 of the INF Treaty, are banned. The Russians seem concerned that that the United States "could considerably improve the capabilities of the Hera."
Washington responded that Article 7 of the Treaty permits the use of "boosters systems."
Yuri Solomonov, a Russian expert and the chief designer of Russia's modern nuclear systems, also accused the U.S. of testing other target missiles -- the Long Range Air Launched Target (LRALT) and the (Medium Range Target) MRT, up to 2000 km and 1100 km range respectively -- which could be a part of the Theater High Altitude Air Defence system to be deployed in U.S. allied territories such as Japan and Taiwan in the Asia-Pacific region.
Using target missiles in these ranges is apparently prohibited in the INF treaty. Despite Russian Foreign Ministry complaints about them, Russia was "met with no response."
Russia also raised concerns over the MK41 Vertical Launching System, planned to be deployed in Romania and Poland. Russia apparently believes it could be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.
The INF treaty has proven that it is indeed possible to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons systems. However, considering the pace at which INF category missiles are being developed by states such as China, India, Iran, Israel, and North Korea, how far Russia and the United States will continue to adhere to the treaty remains to be seen.
Debalina Ghoshal is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, India.