On April 5 Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, announced that plans by the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region to station land-based intermediate-range missiles posed a potential first-strike threat to Russia. One that would compel Russia to respond with what she identified as military and technical measures.
She referred to frequent statements by Western officials in recent weeks about basing hitherto sea-based short- and intermediate-range missiles within striking distance of Russia’s air defenses. She warned specifically about such missiles in Europe, which could “make breaches in the enemy [that is, Russian] defense.”
The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman further warned that the above plans would constrict if not cripple options for future negotiations on intermediate-range missiles in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over two years ago.
Last August she registered a similar concern in saying, “Undoubtedly, the deployment of new American missile systems in the region would provoke a dangerous new round of the arms race.” (Now her warning pertains to threats of more immediate risk to Russia than a renewed arms race.)
A month later Donald Trump administration Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said, “Now that we are out of the INF Treaty, the department is making rapid progress to field ground-launched missiles.”
The new land-based missiles can be of two sorts. They are sea-based missiles of the Tomahawk cruise and Standard Missile-6 (Standard Extended Range Active Missile, currently under production for the U.S. Navy) varieties converted for land use. Tomahawks have been used in land attacks in Iraq, the Bosnian Serb Republic, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria over the past thirty years. The Standard Missile-6 is designed for anti-aircraft warfare including against planes, unmanned aerial vehicles and anti-ship cruise missiles and for terminal ballistic missile defense. Its superiority over previous Standard Missile versions includes being able to hit very high altitude missiles and to shoot down ballistic missiles in their terminal phase. It can have a range of up to 300 miles.
Last August General Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff of the Army, said the Army was “looking at land-based, land-launched Tomahawk missiles and SM-6s, which are in the Navy’s inventory.” The two missiles, or adaptations of them, then, would be transferred from the Navy to the Army for land use.
Such land-based missiles were expressly prohibited by the now defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Even prior to the expiration of the SNF Treaty the U.S. adopted a plan to convert Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) sea-based interceptor missiles for land use in Eastern Europe. In what the Barack Obama administration termed European Phased Adaptive Approach or Aegis Ashore (SM-3s are part of the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Combat System), advanced versions of the SM-3 (now at the stage of SM-3 Bloc IIB) would be based in Romania and Poland with an AN/TPY-2 X-band (also called Forward Based X-Band Transportable) radar facility in Turkey. With a range of 2,900 miles the radar can monitor all of western and much of southern Russia. The radar station is coordinated with the SM-3s in Romania (and planned for Poland) and four U.S. guided-missile destroyers equipped with SM-3s permanently assigned to the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The land-based stationing of the SM-3s is the prototype of the now projected deployment of land-based SM-6s and Tomahawks for the first time.
Russia’s Zakharova was voicing legitimate concerns when she criticized the lack of assurance from “the political elite of the new US administration and also from an overwhelming majority of US NATO allies” that intermediate-range missiles would not be based near Russia’s western border. She also expressed apprehensions about similar deployments near Russia’s eastern coast.
Zakharova stated: “We will continue closely watching practical measures by the United States and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region for creating an arsenal of land-based intermediate-and shorter-range missiles, especially taking into account the intentions announced by Great Britain.” The latter is a reference to the Boris Johnson government recently announcing it was substantially increasing Britain’s nuclear arsenal.
The concern about the deployment of U.S. and allied ground-based intermediate-range missiles to the Asia-Pacific region (Washington has spoken of new missile deployments to Japan and Australia of late) has aroused China’s concerns as well. Last year the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman warned: “China firmly opposes U.S. plan to deploy land-based medium-range missiles in the Asia Pacific. If the U.S. is bent on going down the wrong path, China is compelled to take necessary countermeasures to firmly safeguard its security interests.”
After the strident denunciation of Russia and China at last month’s NATO foreign ministers meeting at the military bloc’s headquarters by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the two nations are justified in suspecting plans by the U.S. and its allies to introduce land-based intermediate-range missiles near their frontiers and in preparing to resolutely respond to the deployments.
Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.