The United States will soon announce plans to withdraw from a landmark treaty with Russia, multiple outlets reported on Thursday.
The suspension could be announced as quickly as Friday, according to CNN:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce Friday that the US will suspend participation in an arms control treaty with Russia that has been a centerpiece of European security since the Cold War, according to two US officials and multiple diplomatic sources familiar with the matter.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which prohibits the stationing of short- and intermediate-range missiles in Europe, has long been a target of criticism both by President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The United States has declared Russia to be in non-compliance of the treaty since 2014. Specifically, the US alleges that a new cruise missile developed by Russia, called the Novator 9M729, violates the pact.
Should the agreement be suspended, a six month countdown to full withdrawal will begin, during which Russia could be once again pronounced compliant should they scrap the entire missile system they are building:
“The only way you can get the system back into compliance is to destroy the system,” Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson told reporters last week, according to CNN. “Destroy the missile. There is no way to alter it, there is no way to change it, there is no way to adjust the fuel cycle.”
The INF, signed by United States President Ronald Reagan and Russian General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987 and ratified by the United States Senate in May 1988, required both countries to eliminate ground launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. The treaty played a critical role in deescalating tensions across Europe and in seeing an end to the Cold War-era arms race between the US and Russia.
Although each side has accused the other of violating the treaty, both the United States and Russia have remained outwardly committed to it in the decades since its ratification. However, in 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin railed against the treaty, labeling it a hindrance to national security in the face of worldwide nuclear proliferation. Ten years later, in December 2017, President Trump introduced a plan to ensure Russian compliance via economic pressure, after the National Security Council determined that the preservation of the INF lay within US interests.
Uri Friedman at The Atlantic attributes the recent shift in attitude to National Security Advisor John Bolton, who joined the White House staff in April 2018:
Bolton, a proto–America Firster who joined the Trump administration in the spring, has long opposed international arms-control and nuclear-nonproliferation agreements that he claims are utterly ineffectual or intolerable infringements on the United States’ freedom of action. During the George W. Bush administration, he helped engineer the U.S. withdrawal from a treaty with Russia limiting antiballistic-missile systems and an agreement with North Korea rolling back its nuclear program, and he championed Washington’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal under Trump.
In 2011, well before the United States was calling out Russia for violating the INF, Bolton argued for either bringing new countries into the treaty or scrapping the accord entirely, since it constrained America’s ability to counter rival nuclear powers like China and nuclear aspirants like Iran and North Korea. (Even without its own intermediate-range missiles near China, Iran, and North Korea, the United States can still deter these countries with other elements of its nuclear-weapons arsenal, such as nuclear-capable aircraft and submarines.)
The INF, along with the New START treaty banning long-range nuclear missiles, has played a crucial role in the international peace structure following the conclusion of WW2. Clearly, the abandonment of this treaty would have wide-ranging repercussions, not only across Europe, but across the world as well.