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US pulls out of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia

The United States has pulled out from the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which it had signed with the USSR during the Cold War. Explaining the decision, Trump alleged that Russia has violated the agreement. He said that they have been violating it for many years.

Feb 4, 2019 13:23 IST
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US President Donald Trump announced on February 1, 2019 that the United States will pull out of the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which it had signed with Russia during the Cold War.

Trump announced that the US will suspend its obligations under the pact and begin the process of withdrawing from it on February 2, 2019. He stated that the US will exit the treaty in six months unless Russia comes back into compliance by destroying all of its violating missiles, launchers, and associated equipment. Explaining the decision, he said that for arms control to effectively contribute to national security, all parties must faithfully implement their obligations.

Trump alleged that Russia has violated the agreement and that they have been violating it for many years. He said that the US would not let Russia violate a nuclear agreement and go out and develop the weapons while the US is not allowed to. “We'll have to develop those weapons,” he added.

Russia’s reaction

In response to US suspension of the treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on February 2, 2019 that Russia would also abandon its obligations under the cold-war era nuclear arms control treaty.

Putin stated that Russia would build weapons previously banned under the treaty and would no longer initiate talks with the United States on any matters related to nuclear arms control.

However, Putin said that Russia will only deploy short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles if US does so as well.

Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty?

The INF treaty was signed in December 1987 between the then US President Ronald Reagan and his USSR counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.

The treaty banned all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 km or 310–620 miles (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 km or 620–3,420 miles (intermediate-range).

Significance of the treaty

The treaty offered a blanket of protection to the United States' European allies and marked a watershed agreement between two nations at the centre of the arms race during the Cold War.

It was designed to provide a measure of some strategic stability on the continent of Europe.

  US to end decades-old nuclear arms control treaty with Russia

What led US to withdraw from the agreement?

The Trump Administration has repeatedly alleged that Russia has violated the treaty. The US insists the Russians have, in breach of the deal, developed a new medium-range missile called the ‘Novator 9M729’ - known to NATO as the SSC-8. The missile would enable Russia to launch a nuclear strike at NATO countries at very short notice.

In 2014, President Barack Obama had accused Russia of breaching the INF after it allegedly tested a ground-launched cruise missile. He, however, reportedly chose not to withdraw from the treaty under pressure from the European leaders, who said such a move could restart an arms race.

Recently, NATO officially confirmed Russia's activity constituted a likely violation. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the military alliance remained concerned about Russia's lack of respect for its international commitments, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Stoltenberg stated that after years of denials, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of its new missile system ‘9M729’.  However, Russia did not provide any credible answers on its new missile.

Russia’s failure to adhere to the agreement was also addressed in the most recent Nuclear Posture Review published by the Defense Department in February, which said Russia "continues to violate a series of arms control treaties and commitments."

Other Factors

The INF treaty was a bilateral treaty between the US and the USSR. Hence, other nations such as China were free to develop and deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles without restraint.

This led many in the Trump administration to feel that the INF treaty placed them at a growing disadvantage in their developing strategic rivalry with China.

Impact

The withdrawal of the United States from the treaty could provoke an arms race, not only with Russia, but also with China, which was never a signatory to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, similar to the one that was occurring when the agreement was initially signed in the 1980s.

The decision comes as the United States has begun building its first long-range nuclear weapons since 1991, a move that other nations are citing to justify their own nuclear modernisation efforts.

The move signals an end to the more than a half-century of traditional nuclear arms control, in which the key agreements were negotiated in US and Russia.

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