Could Russian Nuke Tests Start a New Cold War?

The Fiscal Times

In 1987, a treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev prohibited the testing of medium range nuclear missiles. Now, there are growing concerns that Russia is violating the agreement that helped to end the Cold War. 

The State Department has yet to formally accuse Russia of violating the terms of the deal.  But the United States has told NATO allies that Russia has tested the missile.

Related: US Nukes: Now It's Our Turn to Catch Up to the Russians

“The United States never hesitates to raise treaty compliance concerns with Russia, and this issue is no exception,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “There’s an ongoing review process, and we wouldn’t want to speculate or prejudge the outcome.

The State Department has had suspicions that Russia was testing missiles designed to strike targets in Europe since 2008. When diplomats raise the issue with Russian officials, Moscow consistently denies it and says it considers the matter settled.

The disagreements over nuclear weapons are the latest in a series of rifts between Russia and the United States. The most visible is Russia’s grant of asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Moscow and Washington have been on the opposite sides of nearly every big international issue, from Syria to Iran to the recent turmoil in Ukraine.

The spat over the nuclear treaty is especially troubling. Nuclear agreements like the one Russia is suspected of violating have been the bedrock of the post-Cold War relationship between Russia and the United States, along with NATO allies.

Related: How Iran and Russia Could Cause an Oil Shock

It also comes as negotiations over the START treaty, which allows for the continued reduction of nuclear weapons, have stalled. Last year, President Obama called for an accelerated disarmament process, but Russia has shown little willingness to do so.

The reason for this is simple: the Russian military is decades behind the United States, and the Kremlin believes nuclear weapons even the table. That’s why Russia has quietly been updating its nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War, while the United States has largely left its arsenal untouched.

Republicans were already concerned that the disarmament process was breaking down. Now, they’re warning that the missile tests could set back U.S.-Russia relations more than 20 years.

“News reports indicating Russia is in violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty are deeply troubling. The signing of that treaty in 1987 by President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev, marked an historic turning point in the Cold War, and stood as the pillar of our post-Cold War relations with Russia,” House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a statement. “If in violation, Russia must immediately bring itself back into full compliance.”

“The INF currently limits the United States from developing certain options to deal with terrorists and rogue states; we should not be unilaterally bound by any treaty,” Rogers added.

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