In a press conference on Tuesday, Kay Bailey Hutchison, the United States’ envoy to NATO, declared that Washington was prepared to launch an attack on Russian military installations in response to treaty violations. These threatening words were a response to the fact that since 2013 Russia has been constructing land-based missiles with a range of up to 5,500 kilometers, in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987. The danger is that these missiles could allow Russia to launch a devastating surprise attack on Europe.
“At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a (Russian) missile that could hit any of our countries,” Hutchison said. “Counter measures [by the United States] would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty.” She underscored the point: “They are on notice.”
A preemptive attack on the world’s second largest nuclear power would, of course, be incredibly reckless. It’s not clear whether Hutchison’s words were sincere or bluster.
This belligerent language, however, is characteristic of the “dual-track presidency” or the Trump era. President Donald Trump has often suggested that he wants warmer relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Large parts of the permanent government, especially in the Pentagon, disagree with this agenda and in response have continued to either be hostile to Russia or even (to compensate for the president’s pro-Putin rhetoric) have adopted an even more aggressive anti-Russia posture. Hutchison’s threats are an example of this new militancy.
The danger of a “dual-track” policy is that it sows confusion and sends mixed messages, which amplify the chances of unintended consequences.