Volume 10, Issue 9, October 21, 2018
Under the influence of his new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Trump announced Saturday at a campaign rally that he will “terminate” a key nuclear arms control agreement that helped end the Cold War race–the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in response to a long-running dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty.
The decision represents a shift in the administration’s INF response strategy which was announced in January and before Bolton joined the administration.
Trump’s move to blow-up the INF Treaty is unnecessary and self-defeating wrong turn that could lead to an unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms competition with Russia.
The breakdown of the agreement and uncertain future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) creates the most serious nuclear arms control crisis in decades.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is “unacceptable” and “dangerous.” Russia continues to assert that there is no basis for the U.S. claim that Russia has violated the treaty, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said “there is still room for dialogue."
Bolton meets Monday in Moscow with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
The INF Treaty Still Matters
The INF Treaty, which was negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, 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 km (300 to 3,500 miles).
The treaty successfully eliminated an entire class of destabilizing nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe and helped bring an end to the spiraling Cold War arms race. It has been a cornerstone of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture. And as NATO defense ministers said earlier this month, the INF Treaty “has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.”
Without the INF Treaty, we will likely see the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and elsewhere.
The INF Treaty, while very successful, has been at risk for some time. In 2014, Washington charged that Moscow had tested a weapon, which it later identified as the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, at a range beyond the limit set by the treaty. In 2017, the Pentagon declared that Moscow had begun deploying the weapon.
Russia denies that it has violated the treaty and asked the United States to divulge the technical details behind the charge. Moscow has expressed its own concerns about U.S. compliance with the pact, notably that U.S. missile defense interceptor platforms deployed in eastern Europe could be used for offense purposes that would violate the treaty.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been limited and to date unsuccessful. Since Trump took office, U.S. and Russian officials have met only twice to try to resolve the compliance dispute.
Clearly, neither side has exhausted the diplomatic options that could resolve their concerns.
U.S. Withdrawal Would Be An “Own Goal.”
Trump claims that the United States is pulling out to show Russia that it will not tolerate Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty. “We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” Trump said.
Trump may want to sound tough, but the reality is that withdrawing from the treaty weakens U.S. and allied security and does not provide the United States any military advantage in Europe or elsewhere.
- U.S. withdrawal does nothing to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty and it distracts from the fact that it was Russia’s actions that precipitated the INF Treaty crisis.
- U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty opens the door for Russia to produce and deploy the missile of concern, the 9M729, in greater numbers without any constraints.
- There is no military need for the United States to develop, as Trump has proposed, a new and costly INF Treaty-noncompliant missile. The United States can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets that ground-launched missiles that are prohibited by INF Treaty would.
- NATO does not support a new INF Treaty-range missile in Europe and no country has offered to host it. Attempting to force the alliance to accept a new, potentially nuclear missile would divide the alliance in ways that would delight the Kremlin.
Even without the INF Treaty in force, the U.S. Congress and NATO governments should reject Trump’s push to develop a new U.S. ground-based INF Treaty-range missile in Europe (or elsewhere), and instead focus on maintaining conventional military preparedness to deter adversaries without violating the treaty.
Does the United States Need Ground-launched, INF Treaty-Range Missiles to Counter China?
No. In 2011, long before any Russian INF compliance concerns surfaced, John Bolton proposed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Washington should to withdraw from the treaty in order to counter China, which is not party to the treaty. In his Oct. 20 remarks on withdrawing from the treaty, Trump also pointed to China as a reason for abandoning the INF Treaty.
When asked at a congressional hearing in July 2017 about whether withdrawal from the INF Treaty could be useful because it would allow the U.S. to develop new ground-based systems to hit targets in China, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said that such a move was unnecessary because the United States can already hold those targets at risk with treaty-compliant air- and sea-based assets.
In his remarks Saturday, Trump suggested he might support a ban on INF Treaty-range missiles if "Russia comes to us and China comes to us” ... "and let’s none of us develop those weapons.” Russia did approach the United States in 2007 and jointly proposed in a UN General Assembly resolution multilateralizing the INF Treaty. The idea of “multilateralizing INF has been around for more than a decade, but neither Russia nor Washington have devoted serious effort into the concept and China is highly unlikely to join an agreement that would eliminate the bulk of its missile arsenal.
Trump’s INF Treaty decision is a debacle. But without New START it will be even worse
If the INF Treaty collapses, as appears likely, the only remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles will be New START. New START is due to expire in 2021 unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it by five years as allowed for in Article XIV of the agreement.
Unfortunately, Bolton may try to sabotage that treaty too. Since he arrived at the White House in May, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin talks on its extension.
Key Republican and Democratic Senators are on record in support of New START extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.
Instead, one option Bolton is talking about is a “Moscow Treaty" approach that would dispense with New START and its rigorous inspection system on warheads and missiles to ensure compliance. This option would simply set limits on deployed warheads only and without any verification—an approach Moscow is very unlikely to accept because it could give the United States a significant breakout advantage.
The current crisis makes it all the more important to get a serious U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue back on track.
Trump and Putin should agree to relaunch their stalled strategic stability dialogue and commit to reaching an early agreement to extend New START by five years to 2026 – which is essential if the two sides are to meet their legal commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …."
If they fail to extend New START, an even more dangerous phase in U.S.-Russian relations is just over the horizon.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy