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Twenty years ago, on December 8, 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald
Twenty years ago, on December 8, 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington. It was the first-ever treaty on reducing available arsenals.

It brought the elimination of an entire type of nuclear missiles and set a practical example of openness by introducing mutual in situ checks for 13 years.

Today, the United States intends to deploy an anti-missile defense system in Europe. The Russian political and military leadership is retaliating. They have repeatedly spoken of quitting the INF Treaty. This move demands the utmost circumspection. Russia has to consider all pros and cons, and assess every possible military strategic, economic and political consequence.

It is pointless to bang the door on the treaty unless Russia intends to deploy the missile systems it bans. On the other hand, new intermediate-range missiles targeted at anti-missile projects in Europe can be intercepted by the American ABM. Everything depends on their number and technical characteristics.

Will Russia be able to afford the missile effort, which requires exorbitant sums for R&D, testing, manufacture, and deployment? Will the program strangle even more urgent national projects, underfunded as they are? I am referring, in particular, to the development of strategic nuclear forces, technical modernization of general purpose forces, raising officers' living standards, housing construction, shifting the army from conscription to contract service, and enhancing combat readiness.

The U.S. may hit back by reviving the Pershing 2 and sea-launched cruise missile programs or by developing new upgraded intermediate-range missiles to be deployed in Europe. New NATO countries would be enthusiastic about it, to all appearances. As for Russia, the prospects look much worse for it than for the Soviet Union of the early 1980s, though it regarded INF deployment as a serious threat even then.

The balance of nuclear and conventional forces and the geopolitical situation have changed drastically since then. In the 1980s, Pershing 2 missiles could barely reach the Moscow Region. Now, if similar high-speed systems appear in the new NATO countries, they will cover the entire European Russia and, possibly, a major part of Siberia. Such missiles can carry nuclear or smart conventional warheads with the shortest possible impact point time to endanger the entire Russian nuclear deterrence system-unlike ABM projects in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia would have to completely restructure its nuclear forces and warning and control systems at a huge cost.

There is, however, a lower-cost way. Russia can deploy several extra regiments armed with Topol-M ICBMs or develop smart conventional warheads for available ballistic and cruise missiles, which the INF Treaty does not prohibit. Besides, the SORT-Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed in Moscow in 2002, does not limit the deployment of single- and multiple-warhead Topol-Ms, whether nuclear of conventional, to say nothing of the nuclear warhead ceiling varying from 1,700 to 2,200 units.

But then, the expediency of targeting long-, intermediate- and short-range conventional missiles on ABM elements is not evident. Such elements would be hit to prevent the interception of Russian ICBMs targeted at the U.S. and its allies in a retaliation, launch-under-attack or first strike. Here, we mean nuclear warfare as the ICBMs in question have nuclear warheads. In this instance, Russian missiles would be launched after a hypothetical massive U.S. or NATO nuclear strike on Russia.

Would it be worthwhile to hit European missile defense elements with smart conventional arms in that instance? On the contrary, it would be simpler, cheaper and surer to use long- or intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

Last but not least, the INF is one of the few central nuclear disarmament treaties still in force after the destructive policy of the George W. Bush Administration-a policy increasingly criticized in the U.S. and worldwide. To all appearances, it will get under review as the new Administration comes in after the 2008 presidential election.

Alexei A. Arbatov, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is a major expert on international security.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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