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Russia Deploys Missile In Violation Of Arms Treaty


Russia has covertly deployed a new cruise missile in violation of an arms treaty that bans intermediate-range land-based missiles, weapons that could be fired from Russia, say, and hit targets in Europe. Michael Gordon, who covers national security for The New York Times, first reported this story. And he joins me in the studio. Welcome to the program.

MICHAEL GORDON: Glad to be here.

SIEGEL: First, what the Russians have done is said to violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Why is that agreement so important?

GORDON: Well, this is really one of the foundational agreements in arms control. It was forged during the Reagan administration during a period in which the Russians had a substantial number of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at Europe and the United States in kind deployed its own missiles. They arrived at what was known as a zero solution...

SIEGEL: Zero meaning zero missiles of intermediate range. Not intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are longer, and not tactical missiles, which are shorter range.

GORDON: Right. There's still an abundant supply of long-range and short-range nuclear arsenal for both sides. But this was regarded as an important step. It helped seal the end of the Cold War. And now it's in serious jeopardy.

SIEGEL: According to your reporting, this is a very small deployment. Just a couple of cruise missiles, I gather. Does it make sense for the Russians to have a very small cruise missile program? Or do you assume there would be many more to come?

GORDON: Well, I don't think the Russians went to the trouble of violating the treaty to field a small complement of missiles. But the history of this is that the Obama administration called the Russians out on this in 2014.

SIEGEL: For developing the missile.

GORDON: Well, for developing and testing it, which in itself was a significant violation. And all indications are - is this is the harbinger of more to come.

SIEGEL: Do you get a sense of what the U.S. or the NATO response to this would be?

GORDON: Well, right now, with the new American administration, the Trump administration, we don't seem to have a Russia policy. We don't have a national security adviser. We don't have a deputy secretary of state. There's not an undersecretary of defense for policy. It's not clear what the Russia policy's going to be. We would think there are probably three things they're going to do when they get around to doing them.

One, try to mobilize NATO opinion, mobilize Japanese and the South Koreans who would potentially be affected by this and get them to apply political pressure on Moscow. If that doesn't work, there are a variety of military steps NATO could take. But what I don't see much appetite for is deploying nuclear systems in Europe.

SIEGEL: Of NATO countering these with new systems. Yeah.

GORDON: Well, with systems based on NATO territory, which would probably tear the alliance apart.

SIEGEL: When intermediate-range missiles were a huge political issue in Europe back in the 1980s, the Soviet Union, it seemed, hoped to see Europe decouple a bit from the United States and split the NATO alliance on this. These days, when the Russians seem to, you know, support anti-NATO movements in Europe, are we back to the same thing of Russia hoping to divide the Western alliance?

GORDON: Yes. I covered Russia for four years for The New York Times, and during that period I saw the rise of Vladimir Putin, first as prime minister and then as president. And I had said, a leopard doesn't change its spots. I think his goal is to recreate as much of the former Soviet Union as is possible and to divide the West and weaken it as much as possible. And unfortunately, they've had a certain degree of success. So however this issue is handled by the United States, it needs to handle it in an intelligent way.

SIEGEL: We should just add here the Russians have not acknowledged doing this.


SIEGEL: They don't own up to it, do they?

GORDON: No, they deny having such a system. They're constantly saying, show us the evidence of it. And they've lodged all sorts of counter-allegations which the Americans consider spurious.

SIEGEL: Michael Gordon, national security correspondent of The New York Times. Thanks for talking with us.

GORDON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.