President Barack Obama has been aware for at least two years that Russia had been testing missiles in violation of the terms of the 1987 Immediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty for several years. In May 2013, according to a report in Thursday’s New York Times, the State Department formally complained to Russian officials. Yet the next month, President Obama gave a speech in Berlin in which he proposed a new arms agreement with Russia that would cut America’s nuclear arsenal by one-third, in addition to the “New START” treaty he signed in 2011.
The Times‘ Michael R. Gordon notes that Russia began cheating on the 1987 treaty in the 2008, the last year of the lame-duck administration of President George W. Bush, firing a new ground-based medium-range missile. The Obama administration was able to conclude by the end of 2011, after years of further intelligence-gathering, that Russia was cheating. Yet the administration did not desist its pursuit of a “reset” policy with Russia, and President Obama continued to insist on nuclear disarmament without insisting on enforcing existing treaties.
The revelation of Russia’s cheating–and President Obama’s tolerance for it–is crucial for two reasons.
First, it highlights the failure of the “reset” policy, which was driven by the political self-serving and strategically naïve assumption that strained relations with geopolitical rivals was solely the fault of the asserting posture of the Bush administration.
Second, the President’s dogged persistence in offering new concessions to the Russians even as he knew they were breaking the 1987 treaty undercuts his promises to enforce a nuclear deal with Iran.
The Times also notes that Secretary of State John Kerry was briefed about the issue as a Senator but has not raised it with the Russians since his appointment.
There is little reason to believe that a president who rewards Russia’s treaty violations would fulfill promises in his State of the Union address to “be the first to call for more sanctions” against Iran for violations of the deal that went into effect for six months on Jan. 20. When President Obama says he is “ready to exercise all options,” he evidently means to include further concessions to Iran.