WASHINGTON — Top House Republicans are urging President Joe Biden to reject calls from Russia and China to limit U.S. deployments of intermediate-range and short-range ground-based missiles in Europe and the Pacific region, according to a letter obtained by Defense News.
In the Feb. 10 letter to Biden, the Republicans express their opposition to the administration’s willingness to negotiate with Russia over missiles previously covered by the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Since the U.S. exited the INF Treaty in 2019 over claims Russia was failing to comply with its obligations, the Pentagon has looked at fielding the previously banned weapons to deter China.
“We are gravely concerned that any attempt to resurrect the INF Treaty or reimpose limitations on ground-launched missiles would catastrophically undermine American national security, encourage Russian aggression, and advance a flawed view of security that sacrifices peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” read the letter, led by Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.
With the letter, the lawmakers ask how Army and Marine Corps modernization plans that center around American ground-based missiles in the Pacific region would be impacted by “any new or modified INF Treaty” and write that it’s “unconscionable” for the administration to consider reimposing limits on American ground-based missiles.
“The consequences would be deadly. Without the ability to amass large numbers of distributed and affordable missiles, a future war in the Indo-Pacific would be over before it began. It is not an exaggeration to say peace in the Indo-Pacific — not to mention the lives of countless American service members — hangs in the balance,” the letter read.
The letter’s signatories include the top Republicans of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama; the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas; and House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio; as well as the chair of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.
The 1987 INF Treaty banned the U.S. and Soviet Union from deploying ground-based nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 310 miles to 3,400 miles, while also allowing intrusive on-site compliance verification. It ended, however, amid claims by the Obama and Trump administrations, as well as NATO, that Russia was violating its terms.
China’s military has fielded short-, medium- and intermediate-range conventional systems capable of holding U.S. and allied bases in the Pacific region at risk, according to a Pentagon assessment published last year. Meanwhile, American commanders in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe have said fielding equivalent systems is important for deterring China and Russia.
In a statement, Gallagher argued the Trump administration’s justified exit from the INF Treaty “both imposed costs on Russia for its material breach of the agreement and set the stage for our military to counter China’s vast missile arsenal.”
“In light of looming Russian aggression in Ukraine and its sustained record of breaching its Treaty obligations, it is insane the Biden administration is even considering negotiating new restrictions on ground-launched missiles. The administration must reverse course before it sacrifices peace in Asia upon the altar of appeasement in Europe,” he said.
Japan is potentially open to hosting American intermediate-range missiles, pending the results of a defense policy review, the ambassador of Japan to the United States, Koji Tomita, told Politico last week.
During a round of U.S.-Russia diplomacy to defuse the Ukraine crisis, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters the U.S. made clear it is “open to discussing certain missile systems” along the lines of the INF Treaty.
Russia has sought guarantees that neither side will deploy intermediate- or short-range missiles close enough to hit the territory of the other side. And a similar call appeared in a 5,300-word joint statement from Russia and China last week.
Moscow and Beijing argued that Washington’s “acceleration of research and the development” into the previously banned missiles “and the desire to deploy them in the Asia-Pacific and European regions, as well as their transfer to the allies, entail an increase in tension and distrust, increase risks to international and regional security, lead to the weakening of international non-proliferation and arms control system, undermining global strategic stability.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.