The Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer argues that U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty would be “a loser all around,” giving Russian officials cause for celebration:
“First, the United States will get the blame for killing the treaty. Moscow has vigorously denied the U.S. charge and claims the United States is in fact the one in violation. U.S. evidence of the Russian violation is highly classified, so the public debate will devolve into an exchange of charges, counter-charges, and denials. Given the low credibility of the Trump administration, Washington will have a hard time winning that debate. Second, once the United States withdraws from the treaty, there is no reason for Russia to even pretend it is observing the limits. Moscow will be free to deploy the 9M729 cruise missile, and an intermediate-range ballistic missile if it wants, without any restraint. Third, the U.S. decision will prove controversial with European allies and others who continue to see value in the treaty. It’s hard to feel too much sympathy; no European leader has raised a public stink with the Kremlin about the Russian violation, and there’s little to suggest the violation was protested much in private at high levels. Still, this is the kind of question where the U.S. position would benefit from alliance solidarity. Fourth, the United States currently has no missile that it could quickly deploy to match the Russians. The “'integrated strategy' included a treaty-compliant research and development program for a U.S. intermediate-range missile (development is allowed short of flight-testing), but it provided little money. Even if the Pentagon were to build the missile, however, a big question remains: Where could the United States put it? An intermediate-range missile based in the United States cannot reach Russia, so it will not cause much alarm in the Kremlin. And it is unlikely that the United States could persuade NATO, Japan or South Korea to deploy it.”
Many of America’s allies, including most of its European allies and Japan, are concerned about the consequences — for both Europe and future disarmament efforts — of the U.S. pulling out of the INF Treaty. Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, urged the U.S. to consider the consequences of this decision:
“The [INF T]reaty ... has for 30 years been an important pillar of our European security architecture. We have often urged Russia to address serious allegations that it is violating the agreement. We now urge the U.S. to consider the possible consequences [of leaving the Treaty].”
The Kremlin has long wanted to leave the INF Treaty, but President Putin has been reluctant to make the move himself, as he’s been wary of the blowback. The Brookings Institute's Pavel Baev says:
“The Russian leadership has wanted to scrap the INF Treaty for a long time, but President Putin has been reluctant to take the blame for such misbehavior. Instead, the Kremlin sought to provoke the Trump administration—known for its eagerness to break international agreements—into rushing the unilateral withdrawal. It has achieved just that, but is hardly in a position to harvest any political dividends. For once, Russia’s reputation has sunk so low that no attempt to claim being an innocent victim of U.S. pressure could convince even sincere believers in dialogue. For another, the INF Treaty codifies Russia’s status as a nuclear superpower on par with the United States, and no amount of brandishing of ‘wonder-missiles’ can repair the damage to this much-valued distinction.”
President Trump argues that withdrawing from the INF Treaty makes sense for the U.S., given that Russia isn’t honoring the agreement anyway:
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years and I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to. We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement but Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement so we’re going to terminate the agreement, we’re going to pull out.”
When asked to clarify his position, President Trump said:
“Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,’ but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable. So we have a tremendous amount of money to play with with our military.”
President Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has long been a proponent of withdrawing from the INF Treaty, as it constrains the America's ability to counter nuclear rivals such as China and nuclear aspirants such as China, Iran, and North Korea. When President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, Bolton asserted that he was doing so in recognition of a “changed reality” in both technological and strategic terms.
Matthew Kroenig, a nuclear expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, argues that’s “no hope of getting Moscow to return to compliance” with the INF Treaty. He contends that “it doesn’t make sense for the United States to be unilaterally constrained by limits that don’t affect any other country.”
This bill has 10 cosponsors in the current Congress, including nine Democrats and one Independent. Last Congress, it had six cosponsors, including five Democrats and one Independent, and died in committee.
Of Note: President Trump announced his intention to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia on October 20, 2018. Ultimately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with her European counterparts, convinced President Trump to give Moscow one last change to comply with the accord before deciding on whether to withdraw the U.S. from the treaty. On December 4, 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to give Russia 60 days to comply with the treaty. After that period elapsed, the Trump administration moved to formally suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty as of February 2, 2019.
The INF Treaty was originally signed by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It required the U.S. and Soviet Union to permanently eliminate all ground-launched ballistic and cruise milles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers, effectively eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons.
Alongside the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the INF Treaty helped dramatically reduce the number of long-range Soviet and American nuclear weapons, ending the nuclear-arms race. Together, these treaties resulted in the destruction of nearly 2,700 missiles and their launchers, and boosted the overall U.S.-Soviet relationship as the Cold War ended.
For years, the U.S. and Russia have traded accusations that the other party is violating the INF Treaty: Russia purportedly with a banned cruise missile, and the U.S. allegedly with its missile-defense systems in eastern Europe. The Obama administration and, at least initially, the Trump administration, set the goal of bringing Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty.
Richard Burt, who helped negotiate the INF Treaty during the Reagan administration, predicts that a U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty would prompt Russia to again deploy intermediate-range missiles and the United States to react by rolling out new sea- and air-based weapons systems even if it doesn’t redeploy ground-based missiles to Europe. Burt says:
“The existing framework for nuclear control and constraints is unraveling. If the two largest nuclear powers are walking away from arms-control agreements, it provides an excuse for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s easy to look back [at the Cold War] and say, ‘Gee, we avoided a nuclear conflict because we were so smart.’ I happen to think it was ‘We were very lucky. And if we’re going to go through another nuclear-arms race, this time we might not be that lucky.”
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, adds:
“This is a colossal mistake. Russia gets to violate the treaty and Trump takes the blame. I doubt very much that the US will deploy much that would have been prohibited by the treaty. Russia, though, will go gangbusters.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / vchal)