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former IAEA Director-General

U.S. INF Treaty Termination Strategy Falls Short
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Volume 10, Issue 10, December 4, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today declared Russia in material breach of the landmark 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and announced that the United States plans to suspend U.S. obligations under the treaty in 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance.

In a new statement on the INF Treaty also released today, NATO foreign ministers collectively declared for the first time “that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty. The ministers also stated: “It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty.”

In delivering the Trump administration’s ultimatum, Pompeo expressed the “hope” that Russia will “change course” and return to compliance with the treaty.

But hope is not a strategy.

If NATO member states want to preserve a key arms control treaty that has enhanced their security for more than two decades, they will insist that the United States and Russia exhaust diplomatic options and should put forward proposals for how the two sides can resolve issues of concern about treaty implementation.

Unfortunately, Pompeo provided no indication that the administration wants to make a final effort to save the treaty by engaging in talks with Russia to address the compliance concerns raised by Washington and Moscow.

Notably, the NATO foreign ministers statement does not express support for, or even reiterate, Pompeo's ultimatum that the United States will suspend its obligations in 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance.

Once a withdrawal notification is issued, Article XV of the treaty requires the United States to wait six months before it can leave the agreement. Pompeo said the administration will issue a withdrawal notice in 60 days. 

Reports last week indicated that the Trump administration planned to give formal notice of withdrawal from and suspend implementation of the treaty today, but the administration was persuaded to postpone that action for two months following President Trump’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Saturday at the G-20 summit in Argentina.

European Concerns

Several NATO allies have expressed concern about president Trump’s announcement last October that he planned to withdraw from the treaty and that they had not been consulted about the decision. For example, the European Union declared in a statement that the United States should “consider the consequences of its possible withdrawal from the INF on its own security, on the security of its allies and of the whole world.”

Russia’s production, testing, and deployment of an illegal, ground-launched cruise missile with a range between 500 to 5,500 kilometers is unacceptable and merits a strong response from all nations that value arms control and the reduction of nuclear risks. 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 perhaps elsewhere.

A Path Forward

Clearly, diplomatic options to resolve the INF crisis and avoid a new missile race in Europe (and Asia) have not yet been exhausted. To date, diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue have been limited and unsuccessful. Since Trump took office, U.S. and Russian officials have met only twice at the working level to try to resolve the compliance dispute, the last time being in June 2018.

However, the delay of the suspension notification provides little time and will be of little value unless NATO governments, along with Russia and the United States, use the time productively. The focus should be on negotiating a solution that addresses U.S. and NATO concerns about Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missile and addresses Russia concerns about, in particular, U.S. Mk-41 Aegis Ashore missile-interceptor launchers in Romania (and by 2020 in Poland) that could be used for offensive missiles.

Averting the collapse of the treaty at this point requires NATO members (starting at the NATO foreign ministerial Dec. 4-5 in Brussels) to call on the United States and Russia to immediately meet to redouble off-and-on diplomatic efforts to resolve the INF Treaty compliance crisis. It is disappointing the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has not yet done so.

On Nov. 26, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said that Russia is “open to any mutually beneficial proposals that take into account the interests and concerns of both parties.” If Washington is serious about removing the 9M729 missile threat, NATO should explore what that means and table a serious proposal.

If Russia is serious about preserving the INF Treaty, it will agree to discuss U.S. concerns, agree to implement transparency measures, and, if the 9M729 is found to be noncompliant, either modify or eliminate the illegal missile as a “sign of good faith.”

In addition, the United States needs to acknowledge Russia’s concerns about U.S. implementation of the agreement, specifically the Mk-41 launchers for the Aegis ashore missile interceptors in Romania (and soon in Poland) and agree to transparency measures that reduce concerns that the launchers could be used to deploy offensive missiles.

There is precedent for using diplomacy to resolve treaty violations. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan continued to observe the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow despite its determination that a large radar located at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia violated the treaty. It also engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Union on the INF Treaty and what became the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty during this period. It took time, but diplomacy worked, and the Soviets eventually tore down the radar.

“No New Missiles” Pledge

The United States must ensure that Russia does not gain a military advantage from 9M729 ground-launched missile, which the U.S. intelligence community assesses has a range capability beyond the 500km range limit set by the INF Treaty and has been deployed in areas of Russia that enable it to reach parts of Europe. But even without the INF Treaty, there is no military need for the United States to develop a new and costly treaty-noncompliant missile for deployment in Europe.

The United States can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets that new ground-launched missiles prohibited by INF Treaty would. In addition, no European nation has agreed to host such a missile, which could take years to develop, and even if one did, it would be a significant source of division within the alliance—one Russia would be eager to try and exploit.

Instead of accepting the U.S. intention to begin “developing and deploying” new ground-based missiles to counter Russia, the U.S. Congress, as well as NATO member states should insist that if the United States and Russia do not find an 11th hour diplomatic solution to preserve the INF Treaty, they will at least pledge not to be the first to deploy intermediate-range missile systems anywhere in or in-range of NATO Europe.

And regardless of the fate of the INF Treaty, responsible governments and members of the U.S. Congress should also insist that Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend the 2010 New START agreement by five years (from 2021 to 2026) to guard against the possibility of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.

—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director and KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Posted: December 4, 2018