“It will take all of us working together – government officials, and diplomats, academic experts, and scientists, activists, and organizers – to come up with new and innovative approaches to strengthen transparency and predictability, reduce risk, and forge the next generation of arms control agreements.”
– Wendy Sherman
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
June 2, 2022
Russia Should Uphold Its INF Treaty Commitments
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Volume 5, Issue 7, May 23, 2014

Throughout the Cold War years and beyond, the United States and Russia have overcome ideological differences to reach legally binding, verifiable agreements to control and reduce their massive nuclear weapon stockpiles, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and the 2010 New START Treaty.

To preserve past gains and achieve further progress, Russia and the United States must continue to meet their treaty commitments.

The U.S. State Department said in January that Russia may have committed a technical violation of the INF Treaty by testing a new type of cruise missile. At the time, administration officials said no final determination had been made about the possible violation and the specific allegations were not revealed. The Obama administration is expected address the issue in its annual report to Congress on arms control compliance, due to be released soon.

However, statements from an April 29 congressional hearing suggest that Russia has tested an intermediate range cruise missile for use at sea, which is allowed under the treaty, but that the missile was apparently tested from an operational ground-based launcher, which is not allowed.

At the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that, "it appears as if [Moscow] were developing a ground-based capacity for this intermediate missile."

If true, Russia should immediately halt all activities that are inconsistent with the INF Treaty, verifiably dismantle any missiles that may have been tested in violation of the treaty, respond to formal requests for clarification, and announce that it will uphold all aspects of the INF Treaty in the future.

At the same time, there is no reason for the United States to alter its ongoing implementation of the INF Treaty, which has served U.S. national security interests for over 25 years. The United States has no military need to deploy ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,500 kilometers, which are banned by the treaty. U.S. withdrawal would only give Russia an excuse to do the same, allowing Moscow to produce and deploy INF missiles.

The best outcome would be for the United States and Russia to engage in further discussions to promptly resolve any Russian INF Treaty violations. Under the treaty, which is still in force, the parties can use the Special Verification Commission to resolve compliance issues.

Meanwhile, the United States should refrain from any response that would be inconsistent with the goal of achieving full compliance with the INF Treaty.

What the INF Treaty Says

The INF Treaty was signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification.

As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short, medium, and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by the treaty's implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. Today, neither Washington nor Moscow now deploys such systems. The treaty is of unlimited duration.

Under the treaty, the United States committed to eliminate its Pershing IA, Pershing IB, Pershing II, and BGM-109G missiles. The Soviet Union had to destroy its SS-20, SS-4, SS-5, SSC-X-4, SS-12, and SS-23 missiles. In addition, both parties were obliged to destroy all INF-related training missiles, rocket stages, launch canisters, and launchers. Most missiles were eliminated either by exploding them while they were unarmed and burning their stages or by cutting the missiles in half and severing their wings and tail sections.

The treaty ban applies to ground-based missiles only, not sea-based missiles. According to Article VII, a cruise missile can be developed for sea-based use if it is test-launched "from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from" operational ground-based cruise missile launchers.

If Russia has tested an intermediate-range cruise missile from a launcher that is not "distinguishable" from operational launchers, or from a mobile launcher, it would be a violation of the treaty.

A Disturbing Pattern

This apparent technical violation of the INF Treaty follows a disturbing pattern of recent Russian intransigence on further nuclear arms reductions and disregard for key nonproliferation commitments.

Since New START's entry into force in 2011, Russia has resisted follow-on arms reduction talks with the United States. President Vladimir Putin has so far rebuffed U.S. President Barack Obama's June 2013 proposal to reduce U.S. and Russian strategic stockpiles by one-third below the ceilings set by New START.

Worse still, Russia's military intervention in Crimea violates its 1994 Budapest Memorandum commitment to respect the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine.

The Cold War is long over, but the United States and Russia continue to deploy nuclear stockpiles that--by any reasonable measure--far exceed their nuclear deterrence "requirements." It is clear that the United States and Russia need more arms control, not less.

As such, it would be highly counterproductive for Congress to interfere with U.S. treaty implementation, as the House is seeking to do in its FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which would prevent implementation of New START.

The United States and Russia have had their disagreements before, such as over the Krasnoyarsk radar and the United State's effort to reinterpret the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Yet over time, resolution of compliance issues has become easier and the ultimate implementation record of these treaties has been highly successful.   

Until such time as the political conditions are conducive to further nuclear arms reductions, the existing U.S.-Russian arms control instruments still serve as an anchor of stability and predictability--and Russia must do its part by complying with all existing commitments.--TOM Z. COLLINA AND DARYL G. KIMBALL


The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today