U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, a move that could risk a new nuclear arms race.
He blamed Russia for the pullout, saying it violated the landmark agreement by developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles to threaten or provoke the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. Such accusations are now new, but the United States had not previously threatened to leave the treaty.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years,” Trump told reporters after a campaign stop in Elko, Nevada. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.”
The United States also began researching a new missile that could take out new Russian missiles, which the Russian said also amounts to a violation of the pact.
Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the Trump administration would be be making “major mistake” if it were to leave the treaty, however, because that would shift all the blame onto the United States.
“Even if the Pentagon were to build the missile, however, a big question remains: Where could the United States put it? An intermediate-range missile based in the United States cannot reach Russia, so it will not cause much alarm in the Kremlin,” Pifer said in a blog post.
“And it is unlikely that the United States could persuade NATO, Japan or South Korea to deploy it,” he said. “So, U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is a loser all around. Russian officials probably are celebrating the news.”
— Steven Pifer (@steven_pifer) October 20, 2018
A Cold War-era arms treaty
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty, which banned all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
For the United States, the aim was protect not only itself but also its allies in Europe and elsewhere. The treaty led to the destruction of almost 2,700 missiles and their launchers, and strengthened the U.S.-Soviet relationship as the Cold War was receding.
But in 2014, the Obama administration said Russia was violating the treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile in the intermediate range. The Trump administration continued the charge in 2017 that Russia was starting to deploy an intermediate range missile called the 9M729.
Trump said the United States would start developing such cruise missiles unless Russia and China, which is not part of the treaty, both were to “come to us and say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons.”
He spoke ahead of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s scheduled trip to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
“But if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Trump said.
Counter to disarmament
The development is a major setback for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ efforts to persuade nations to scrap nuclear arsenals and other weapons that could result in catastrophic mistakes. Guterres launched his campaign for global disarmament at the University of Geneva in late May.
“We are one mechanical, electronic or human error away from a catastrophe that could eradicate entire cities from the map,” he said then. “Disarmament prevents and ends violence. Disarmament supports sustainable development. And disarmament is true to our values and principles.”
Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and ex-head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, reminded everyone that the Charter of the United Nations at the end of World War II specified a core mission of saving future generations from “the scourge of war.”
He urged the United States and Russia to extend the nuclear pact known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, that took effect in 2011 and is due to expire in 2021, and to maintain the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty barring development of nuclear-capable cruise missiles.
His efforts were an attempt to build on the U.N. Security Council resolution unanimously approved at a 2009 summit-level meeting chaired by then-U.S. President Barack Obama. It urged greater efforts at disarmament, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and cutting the risk of nuclear terrorism — and it had the backing of China, Russia and developing nations.
More than 120 nations last year approved a legal ban on nuclear weapons. Survivors of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 hailed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is not yet in effect.
Nine countries known or believed to have nuclear weapons — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — have withheld support.
The overwhelming majority of the world's nations support the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Here's our summary of every nation's position: https://t.co/lt8W3kR16h #nuclearban 🌍 pic.twitter.com/Io4CENeKrV
— Tim Wright (@TimMilesWright) October 18, 2018
The total elimination of nuclear weapons is the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations. Here in Nagasaki, on the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing, let us commit to make Nagasaki the last place on earth to suffer nuclear devastation. pic.twitter.com/Q14BVeaFqK
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 9, 2018