Congress Calls for US Development of Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Wilson Brissett

Congress may be ready to hold Russia accountable for its violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In its markup for the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the House strategic forces subcommittee includes a provision that declares Russia in material breach of the treaty.

The markup also provides a presidential notification requirement that allows the US to declare itself no longer bound by the treaty and requires the US to develop its own new missile system to match Russia’s capability.

In the markup, the strategic forces subcommittee calls for “a program of record to develop a dual-capable, road-mobile, ground-launched cruise missile system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers.” To produce or test such a system would violate Article VI of the INF Treaty, which the US and Russia signed in 1987 to prevent the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons that could be deployed in a ground war.

But recently, US military commanders have questioned the effectiveness of the treaty.

In February, Russia reportedly deployed a cruise missile system of the type banned by Article VI. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USAF Gen. Paul Selva told HASC in March that Russia’s actions constituted a clear violation of the treaty and “a willingness to use nuclear weapons” in a tactical environment.

The following month, Adm. Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command told Congress the US was “being taken to the cleaners” by countries like China, who “are not signatories” of the INF. Harris said that 90 percent of China’s missile stockpiles fall into categories banned by the treaty.

Now Congress appears ready to take action. In the strategic forces markup, Congress would declare Russia to be already “in material breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.”

Further, the markup establishes a notification regime that would allow the President to determine that the US would “would no longer be bound by the prohibitions set forth in Article VI of the INF Treaty” as early as 15 months from the enactment of the legislation.

The subcommittee meets Thursday to debate amendments to the markup, which will be added to the full NDAA ahead of the June 28 markup session with the entire House Armed Services Committee.