U.S. Pulls Out of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on February 1, citing Russia’s failure to abide by the agreement. Signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, the landmark treaty banned the development and testing of land-based, short-range missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles, according to the U.S. State Department. These missiles can carry multiple nuclear warheads and hit targets across Europe in under 15 minutes, says Encyclopædia Britannica. According to BBC, the treaty also authorized the Soviet Union and the U.S. to inspect each other’s missile installations. The treaty is considered one of the most important arms-control agreements of the Cold War.

In a press release on February 1, President Donald Trump accused Russia of “covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system” while the U.S. “fully adhered” to the treaty’s terms. Trump further said the U.S. remains open to negotiations if the Kremlin complies with the treaty. In his State of the Union address, Trump added that “we really have no choice” but to withdraw, adding that the U.S. will “outspend and out-innovate all others,” cites CNN. The withdrawal is expected to take six months.

According to U.S. officials, Russia’s Novator 9M729 missile system breached INF rules, reports the National Interest, but Russia has accused the U.S. of violating the treaty with its missile defense system. The New York Times reported on February 2 that Russia will also suspend the treaty in response to the U.S. withdrawal. Russian President Vladimir Putin added that Russia will begin developing previously-banned weapons and ruled out negotiations with the U.S. on other nuclear arms control. In his speech, Putin stressed that Russia will not use any of its weapons first, but that its response to any U.S. deployment of weapons “will be symmetrical.”

The same day, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had conducted a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Unlike the missiles banned by the INF treaty, ICBMs have a longer range and can carry thermonuclear warheads. The new missile expands Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, which includes an underwater drone equipped with a miniature nuclear reactor, as announced by RT.

The INF treaty currently leaves other military powers free to develop intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Restrictions on the U.S. give China a military advantage in the Pacific. In a congressional hearing last March, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command noted that China has ground-based missiles in the Pacific, but the U.S. is “at a disadvantage” for having no such system. In response to the announcement, a spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the INF treaty a safeguard for “global strategic balance and stability,” and called for a resolution, reports Reuters. China rejected the idea of joining the treaty, saying that it is more important to “implement the existing treaty” rather than to expand it.

Many U.S. allies worry that U.S. withdrawal means the return of nuclear missiles to Europe. In a joint-statement issued after the announcement, NATO members reaffirmed their pledge to “uphold, support, and further strengthen arms control” while calling on Russia to comply with the treaty. Senior White House officials have assured allies that no nuclear missiles will be deployed in the near future, says the Guardian.

In response to the planned withdrawal, ten Democratic senators introduced a bill in November 2018 to prohibit funding for any missile barred by the INF treaty, according to the website of Senator Jeff Merkley (DOR). Several Democratic presidential contenders back the Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019, which requires an ally to publicly grant the U.S. permission to use its country as a host for intermediate-ranged weapons.