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Will the collapse of the INF treaty lead to a new arms race between the U.S. and Russia?

What the INF’s Treaty’s collapse means for nuclear proliferation (2019).¬† On Friday, the United States is set to withdraw from a Cold War‚Äďera agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, that banned Washington and Moscow from using certain types of missiles. The end of the treaty could spark a new nuclear arms race.

What’s in the treaty?

These weapons systems are considered particularly destabilizing because the missiles can reach their targets within ten minutes, giving little warning and time for decision-making and, consequently, raising the specter of miscalculation.

The INF Treaty required the destruction of existing systems and resulted in the dismantling of 2,692 missiles‚ÄĒ1,846 by Russia and 846 by the United States. It included verification requirements that laid the groundwork for future arms reduction treaties.

The landmark agreement launched a two-decade-long process of major nuclear weapons reductions by the United States and Russia. It led to a series of strategic arms reduction treaties and the historic decrease in nuclear stockpiles globally from a peak of seventy thousand in 1986 to just under fifteen thousand today.

A line chart shows an increase in global nuclear weapons stockpiles with a high of nearly 70,000 in the 1980s and a swift decrease after that.

Why is the United States withdrawing?

Earlier this year, President Donald J. Trump said the United States would terminate the treaty because of Russian noncompliance. U.S. officials claimed that Russia breached the treaty by deploying systems for an intermediate-range missiles known as the SSC-8.

President Barack Obama’s administration first voiced concerns about Russian violations in 2013, and a year later, Obama sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter urging discussions. Both the Obama and Trump administrations communicated with Russia more than thirty times over the issue, but to no avail.

In response to the United States’ announcement, Putin said his country would suspend its INF obligations as well. Russian officials charged that the United States had also violated the treaty, though Washington and its allies called those charges spurious.

Trump also raised concerns about China’s missiles, which are not constrained by the agreement even though an estimated 95 percent [PDF] are in the INF range. But the majority of these Chinese missiles are fitted with conventional, not nuclear, warheads, and the United States and Russia possess more than 90 percent of global nuclear stockpiles, far exceeding China’s capabilities.

Withdrawal Bad

INF Treaty and the Future of Arms Control (2019)

Lapse of treaty will increase missile threat, says UN (2019). The UN secretary general has warned that the world will lose ‚Äúan invaluable brake on nuclear war‚ÄĚ with the expiry of a cold war-era arms control treaty on Friday. The 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty has kept nuclear missiles off European soil for more than three decades, but the US and Russia have failed to agree on how to keep it alive. ‚ÄúThis will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles,‚ÄĚ Ant√≥nio Guterres told reporters, adding that he was concerned about rising tensions between nuclear-armed states.

There have already been signs of a rekindled arms race in the class of weapons that the treaty banned: ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500km. Nearly 2,700 of the cruise and ballistic nuclear missiles were destroyed under the treaty, removing a potent source of European insecurity. A targeted country would only have a few minutes warning of a launch, fueling paranoia and hair-trigger alerts on both sides of the Iron Curtain. These weapons are now beginning to return.

Fears of a new arms race, as US/Russia set to let INF treaty collapse (2019).  A landmark nuclear agreement that eliminated an entire class of land-based missiles is set to lapse on August 2 as both the United States and Russia officially withdraw from the 31-year-old deal.

The bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banned the Soviet Union and United States from developing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers after it was ratified by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.

(Click graphic to enlarge.)

Critics have warned that the pullout from the INF Treaty could lead to a new arms race between the United States and Russia — the successor state of the Soviet Union.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on August 1 that the world “will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war” with the lapse of the treaty.

The INF and the successor to the Cold War-era START agreement to reduce strategic nuclear missile launchers, New START, a U.S.-Russia accord that entered into force in 2011, are two of the bedrocks of arms control between both the world’s leading nuclear-armed states.

New START will lapse in early 2021 unless the U.S. and Russian presidents decide to extend it.

U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly accused Russia of developing weapons systems that they they say are a violation of the treaty, specifically the 9M729, or SSC-8, which according to NATO has a range of about 1,500 kilometers.

Moscow says the 9M729’s range is under 500 kilometers and accuses the U.S. of breaking the deal.

But there have been other accusations and counteraccusations as well.

Eighty-eight-year-old former Soviet leader Gorbachev told Russia’s Interfax news agency in an interview published on August 1 that Washington’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty was “making global politics unpredictable and its development chaotic.”

He urged both parties to “concentrate on preserving the New START treaty as the last pillar of global strategic security” but added that “judging by statements by U.S. administration officials, its future is uncertain.”

President Donald Trump on February 1 announced the U.S. plan to withdraw from the INF Treaty, saying it would suspend its obligations the following day and inform Russia that it would effectively withdraw from the accord in six months’ time — on August 2.

“Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re going to pull out,”¬†the White House said¬†at the time.

Withdrawal Good

Pushing back on Russian propaaranda about the treaty (2019).

Russian Myth:  Russia’s demonstration of the 9M729 on January 23, 2019, proved that the system is INF Treaty compliant and showed that Russia is being transparent.

Fact: ¬†Russia‚Äôs so-called ‚Äúdemonstration‚ÄĚ on January 23, 2019, of what it claimed was the 9M729 launcher and canister did not change the fact that the system is a violation of the INF Treaty, because it has been flight-tested to distances prohibited under the treaty. ¬†The United States and most of our NATO Allies did not attend this briefing, because we all saw it for what it was ‚Äď another attempt to obfuscate while giving the appearance of transparency. ¬†The ‚Äúdemonstration‚ÄĚ was completely controlled by Russia.¬† There is nothing that Russia can say or show to change the fact that Russia has already tested the 9M729 cruise missile to ranges beyond 500 kilometers in violation of the INF Treaty. ¬†The United States provided to Russia in writing an illustrative framework of the steps it would need to take to return to compliance and save the INF Treaty. ¬†Only the complete and verifiable destruction of Russia‚Äôs 9M729 missiles, launchers, and associated equipment will resolve U.S. concerns.

Russian Myth:  Russia is interested in dialogue about the treaty, while the United States is not.

Fact:  The United States has spent over six years in dialogue with the Russian Federation to try to resolve Russia’s non-compliance.  Prior to the U.S. suspension of its obligations on February 2, the United States raised Russia’s INF violation in more than 30 engagements, including at the highest levels of government.  The United States has convened six meetings of technical experts to discuss Russia’s INF Treaty violation since 2014.  This included two meetings of the Special Verification Commission, the treaty body responsible for addressing compliance concerns, in November 2016 and December 2017, and four bilateral U.S.-Russia meetings of technical experts, in September 2014, April 2015, June 2018, and January 2019.  At each of these meetings, the United States pressed Russia on its violating missile, urged it to come back into compliance, and highlighted the critical nature of our concerns.  However, we were met only with obfuscation, falsehoods, and denials.  During the past six months, senior U.S. officials continued to discuss the INF issue with their Russian counterparts, including Secretary of State Pompeo in Sochi on May 14, 2019 and at the July 17, 2019 Strategic Security Dialogue, where Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan led the U.S. interagency delegation.

Russian Myth:  We gave the Americans fully detailed information about when and at what distance tests of this missile had been conducted.

Fact:  For over four years Russia denied the existence of the missile and provided no information about it, despite the United States providing Russia the location of the tests and the names of the companies involved in the development and production of the missile.  Only after we publicly announced the missile system’s Russian designator did Russia admit that the missile exists, and it has since changed its story by claiming that the missile is incapable of ranges beyond 500 kilometers.  Russia claims that it is not obligated to provide the United States any more information about the missile, its capability, or its testing history to support Russia’s contention that the missile is treaty-compliant.  Despite such obfuscation, Russia claims that it wants to preserve the treaty.

The United States has presented Russia many sets of questions over the last six years ‚Äď always addressing the same set of facts regarding the ongoing violation that Russia refuses to discuss. ¬†Russia has refused to answer key U.S. questions about its violating missile. ¬†First, the Russians claimed they could not identify the missile of concern to the United States, despite the United States having provided extensive information about its characteristics and testing history. ¬†Only later, when the United States forced Russia to acknowledge the existence of the missile by publicly releasing its Russian designator, did the Russians claim the missile was not captured under the INF Treaty because its range did not exceed 500km. ¬†Russia now claims it is not obligated to provide any additional information about this missile.

Russian Myth:  The United States wants to start an arms race.

Fact:¬† The facts are that the Russian Federation is producing and fielding a new offensive capability that is prohibited by the INF Treaty. ¬†The United States is not. ¬†The current situation is not the preference or creation of the United States. ¬†The onus clearly falls on Russia.¬† As stated by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an address to the United States Congress on April 2, 2019, ‚ÄúNATO‚Äôs position is united and clear.¬† Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty.¬† There are no new American missiles in Europe.¬† But there are new Russian missiles.‚Ä̬† The United States is not starting an arms race.

Furthermore, it is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who has prioritized a massive military rearmament program, who touted the development of five new strategic offensive nuclear arms in March 2018, regularly brandishes the value of Russia’s nuclear weapons, and who openly threatens to attack Europe with Russian missiles.

Russian Myth:  The United States is cheating, not Russia.

Fact:  The United States is in compliance with its obligations under the INF Treaty, and Allies affirmed this most recently in a statement issued by NATO Foreign Ministers on December 4, 2018.  Russia is not in compliance and has ignored calls for transparency from the United States and Europe.  In contrast to Russia’s refusal to answer substantively key U.S. questions about the SSC-8/9M729, the United States has provided Russia with detailed information explaining why the United States is in compliance with the INF Treaty.  The United States has even presented some of this information publicly, including in a fact sheet on the State Department webpage.

Russian Myth:  The United States is undermining European security.

Fact:¬† Russia is undermining European security with its INF-violating missile that was developed specifically to destroy key European military and economic targets and coerce NATO governments. ¬†As NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has said: ¬†‚ÄúThe problem is the deployment of new Russian missiles. ¬†There are no new U.S. missiles in Europe, but there are more Russian missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and those missiles put the INF Treaty in jeopardy.‚ÄĚ

Russia’s willingness to erode European security and reject international norms by violating a principal arms control agreement should not be a surprise.  The INF Treaty violation follows a disturbing pattern of Russian threatening activity that includes its purported annexation of Crimea, a coup attempt in Montenegro, multiple cyber hacks and attacks, interference in Western elections, and the attempted assassination of Sergey and Yulia Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent on the territory of a NATO ally.

Russian Myth:  The United States is abandoning arms control.

Fact:  As described in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the United States is committed to arms control efforts that advance U.S., allied, and partner security; are verifiable and enforceable; and include partners that comply responsibly with their obligations.  An arms control treaty that restrains only one side, while the other violates it with impunity, is not effective in making us safer.  Rather, it undermines the very idea of arms control as a tool to enhance our collective security.  The United States is acting to preserve the role of arms control in reducing the risk of war and avoiding unnecessary and destabilizing military competition.

Russian Myth:  The United States is manufacturing its allegations against Russia as an excuse to exit the treaty.

Fact:  The Russian Federation is producing and fielding a new offensive capability prohibited by the INF Treaty.  The Russian Federation created this problem, not the United States.  The United States has long maintained that an INF Treaty that all parties comply with contributes to global security and stability.  The United States has discussed this violation with Russia for over six years in an effort to convince Russia to return to compliance with the treaty.  We also have long stated that the status quo is untenable and our patience is not unlimited.  Unfortunately, Russia has taken no significant steps toward resolving this problem.