On December 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 60 days, citing Russian noncompliance. If Russia does not return “to full and verifiable compliance” by the deadline, the United States will start a six month formal withdrawal process (Borger). The treaty went into force in 1987 and bans United States and Russia from developing “ground-launched cruise missiles” with ranges between 310 and 3,400 miles (Ward). The United States posits that “for years,” Russia “developed and deployed a ground launched cruise missile system, the SSC-8, also known as the 9M729” (Erlanger and Harris). NATO allies unanimously agreed with this stance.
On December 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened banned missile development if the United States exited the treaty (Soldatkin). He reasoned that most countries are not INF signatories and have developed banned missiles, and without developing these INF-banned missiles, Russia would be left at a military disadvantage.
Similarly, Pompeo said the United States will “quickly” begin building its nuclear capabilities after leaving the treaty (Birnbaum and Hudson). A leaked memo by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton orders the Pentagon to “develop and deploy ground-launched missiles at the earliest possible date” (Borger). The United States could rapidly adapt medium-range weapons in its arsenal, “such as sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles” while working through the longer process of new weapon development (Borger).
Additionally, the United States named the growing Chinese nuclear arsenal as a reason to abandon the treaty. China is not a treaty signatory, so it has been free to build intermediate range missiles banned by the INF (Donati and Michaels). In a 2017 Senate testimony, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris reported that China’s military has the “largest and most diverse missile force in the world, with an inventory of more than 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles,” 95 percent of which “would violate the INF Treaty if China were a signatory” (Taylor). This defensive strategy against China is in line with the Pentagon’s 2018 defense strategy which “identified China and Russia as key threats” to the United States (Taylor).
As a result of an effort led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the United States agreed to delay pulling out until February 2019. However, White House spokesman Garrett Marquis “cast the decision” to withdraw “as a fait accompli instead of a move still under decision” after releasing an emailed statement (Birnbaum and Hudson). European leaders cited concerns that treaty pullout would sway voters toward pro-Russian candidates. However, Marquis noted that European leaders should not be surprised by the move as they have been aware of Russian noncompliance for five years (Ward). A senior Trump administration official pointed out that “across two administrations, the United States and [its] allies have attempted to bring Russia back into full and verifiable compliance with INF” and these efforts have not changed Russia’s behavior (Ward).
The United States’ decision to exit the treaty could spur an arms race between the United States and Russia. The treaty has kept nuclear-armed missiles off European soil for almost thirty years. This arms race could bring missiles back to Europe as early as February 2019 when the 60 day period begins (Guardian).
Map shows most of the European Union is within Russian missile range. EU leaders successfully convinced the United States to delay pulling out of the INF Treaty to slow Russian arsenal buildup.
Birnbaum, Michael and John Hudson. “Trump administration gives Russia an ultimatum on Cold War-era arms treaty.” 2018. Washington Post. December 4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/ world/trump-administration-gives-russia-60-days-to-comply-with-inf-treaty-or-the-us-will-move-to-withdraw/2018/12/04/64c5bec2-f74a-11e8-8642-c9718a256cbd_story.html?utm_term=.68f26a787046
Borger, Julian. “US says it will pull out of INF treaty if Russia does not comply within 60 days.” 2018. The Guardian. December 4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/04/us-inf-russia-nuclear-treaty-deadline
Donati, Jessica and Daniel Michaels. “U.S. to Suspend Nuclear Treaty With Russia in 60 Days.” 2018. The Wall Street Journal. December 4. https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-to-suspend-nuclear-treaty-with-russia-within-60-days-1543944884
Erlanger, Steven and Gardiner Harris. “U.S., Set to Abandon Missile Treaty, Gives Russia 60 Days to Recommit.” 2018. New York Times. December 5. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/04/ world/europe/inf-treaty-united-states-russia.html
Soldatkin, Vladimir. “Putin: Russia will make banned missiles if U.S. exits arms treaty.” 2018. Reuters. December 5. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nuclear-russia-putin/putin-russia-will-make-banned-missiles-if-us-exits-arms-treaty-idUSKBN1O41DQ
Taylor, Adam. “How China plays into Trump’s decision to pull out of INF treaty with Russia.” 2018. Washington Post. October 23. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/10/23/how-china-plays-into-trumps-decision-pull-out-inf-treaty-with-russia/?utm_term=.a4f53c22fa47
Ward, Alex. “Russia isn’t complying with an arms control treaty — so the US is threatening to rip it up.” 2018. Vox. December 4. https://www.vox.com/world/2018/12/4/18126085/inf-treaty-russia-usa-pompeo-trump-putin-missile