On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that if Russia continues its noncompliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) after 60 days, the Trump administration will begin the six-month process of ending the treaty.
The 1987 treaty, which banned all land-based cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges from 311 to 3,420 miles, was a landmark arms control agreement credited with reducing the risk of nuclear war during the past few decades. Last month, a bipartisan group of American nuclear nonproliferation experts advised the Trump administration that the treaty’s shortcomings require reform, not abandonment.
However, the US still has reason to abandon the agreement: NATO leaders recently released a statement concluding that while Washington has complied with the INF Treaty, Moscow has been violating its principles for years with their deployment of the SSC-8 cruise missile system.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg’s statements indicate that the nonproliferation experts may be targeting the wrong country. “We call on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance with the INF Treaty,” said Stoltenberg. “It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty.”
Retaliation for Moscow’s unsanctioned activities may not be the only motivation behind Washington’s decision: the US’s compliance with the treaty restricts the country from deploying weapons in response to China’s militarization of the South China Sea. China is not part of the INF group, illustrated by the plethora of intermediate-range nuclear missiles that make up 80% of its missile inventory.
Thus, China poses a significant military threat that the US and its allies may be better equipped to respond to if they leave the INF. As tensions between US and Russia heighten around the INF and Moscow continues to resist Western pressure, countries—even nonparticipants in the INF—are now preparing for a world without the agreement.
U.S. Gives Russia a Deadline on Nuclear Treaty
BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday that the Trump administration would begin the formal process to scrap the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty within 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance with the treaty’s terms.
“The burden falls on Russia to make the necessary changes,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Only they can save this treaty.”
If Russia does not come back into compliance by the deadline, the administration will begin a formal, six-month process to end the treaty, Mr. Pompeo said. During those months, the United States will still not test or deploy missiles that would abrogate the pact, known as the I.N.F. Treaty, he said.
Mr. Pompeo received unanimous support from NATO allies.
They issued a statement concluding that while Washington has abided by the 1987 treaty, which prevents the development and deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles, Russia has been violating it for years. The Russians have developed and deployed a ground launched cruise missile system, the SSC-8, also known as the 9M729.
NATO leaders urged Moscow to take steps to maintain the treaty.
“We call on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance with the I.N.F. Treaty,” the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said. “It is now up to Russia to preserve the I.N.F. Treaty.”
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has resisted Western pressure to change his government’s behavior, despite repeated rounds of sanctions targeting his country. By making an ultimatum rather than an overture to discussion with Moscow, Washington is likely to fail in its effort to bring Russia back into accord with the agreement.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied that Moscow has broken the treaty. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, was quoted as telling the state news agency TASS that “Russia fully adheres to the treaty’s provisions. The American side knows that.”
Mr. Pompeo’s announcement came at the end of a day of meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
In October, the Trump administration said it planned to scrap the treaty, alarming many of its closest European allies, who fear a new nuclear competition between Washington and Moscow, with Europe as the playing field. Some quietly complained the Americans should have done a far better job consulting with them before making such a decision.
While the Trump administration pointed to years of treaty violations by Russia, there is another reason it wants to scrap the deal: The pact constrains the United States from deploying new weapons to respond to China’s growing militarization of the South China Sea.
Because China is not a signatory to the treaty, it has faced no limits on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which can travel thousands of miles. Such missiles make up something like 80 percent of the Chinese missile inventory. The treaty does not ban intermediate missiles launched from the sea or from airplanes.
The agreement was negotiated after a long, wrenching debate among NATO allies in the 1980s about how to counter the Russian deployment of SS-20 missiles, designed to hit Europe. In the end, the Europeans agreed to deploy American Pershing II missiles on their soil.
That led to the bilateral American-Soviet treaty, which banned all such weapons.
NATO’s anxiety now stems from the ability of new Russian mobile missile launchers to fire both missiles that remain within the limits of the treaty and those that violate it. They can be armed with either conventional warheads or nuclear ones.
Elbridge Colby, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, said it was a challenge for Washington to balance Europe’s concerns about withdrawing from the treaty with the need to respond to the growing threat from China.
“It’s a hard sell for the Europeans because they see scrapping the treaty as pushing them into a further arms race with Russia without improving their security,” Mr. Colby said. “On the other hand, China is by far the most significant military threat to the U.S. and our allies, and we need to adjust to that.”
American officials have tried to reassure European allies that there is no intention now to deploy new American land-based intermediate missiles in Europe.
But the announcement Tuesday brought back hard memories of the debate in the 1980s, which led to huge anti-American demonstrations in European cities.
“We don’t want a new arms race,” said Mr. Stoltenberg. “We don’t want a new Cold War. So allies will continue to work for a better relationship with Russia.”
At the same time, he said, “Russia now has a last chance to come back into compliance with the I.N.F. treaty, but we must also start to prepare for a world without the treaty.”
The treaty eliminated all ground-based nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles).
Last month, alarmed at what they saw as disintegrating curbs on nuclear weapons, a bipartisan array of American nonproliferation experts urged President Trump to salvage the treaty instead of scrapping it. They said that the treaty had reduced the risk of nuclear war, and that Washington should work to fix its flaws, not abandon it.
Source: The New York Times, Gardiner Harris and Steven Erlanger , Dec. 4, 2018. Photo credit to Politico.