• Lindsey Kim

Withdrawal of INF Treaty

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

On February 1, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US would withdraw its participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia. This announcement was made a week after the US issued an ultimatum to Russia, declaring their intentions to leave the treaty. The withdrawal has created the possibility of nuclear proliferation on both sides—a possibility which has already been confirmed by the Russian government—and the prediction that there may be an escalation of old Cold War tensions has been made by multiple American authorities since.

The INF Treaty was signed December 8, 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev. It “requires destruction of the Parties' ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment within three years after the Treaty enters into force”, according to the US Department of State website. Essentially, it bans the production, possession, and testing of types of missiles. It’s also considered by many to be the primary insurance to prevent nuclear proliferation because of its ban of testing missiles of a certain size in a certain area, and by osmosis, eventual nuclear combat. The US motive to leave the treaty is cited in Article XV of the treaty, with Secretary Pompeo commenting that Russia failed to hold up their end of the bargain. He stated that "Russia remains in material breach of its treaty obligations not to produce, possess, or flight-test a ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missile system with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers." The next day, Vladimir Putin, in a highly anticipated move, also suspended Russia’s participation in the treaty, also commenting that Russia would construct weapons that were previously banned under the treaty because of the new absence of restrictions; he also stated that Russia was no longer interested in initiating nuclear arms control talks.

Critics of the sudden end to the INF treaty are concerned about the potential of nuclear proliferation, based on the history between Russia and the US. This treaty was bilateral (involving the US and Russia, exclusively), and generally excluded other countries—like China, who expressed interest in joining a multilateral extension of the INF policies before the treaty was declared essentially obsolete. But the concern of Americans lies in both Russian and other international entities. Proliferation may be the most prominent in Russia and the US, but the concept of proliferation has been a long standing project in other countries. China (who has accumulated the type of missile prohibited in the treaty for 95% of its ground forces), North Korea, India, Taiwan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. India, Israel, and Pakistan are three notables who never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement of 1970, and North Korea withdrew in 2003. The Arms Control Association estimates that China has 280 nuclear missiles, India has 135, and Pakistan is in possession of 145. The fact that the two most powerful countries in the world—in the nuclear sense—have ended a landmark agreement to stop the testing of nuclear warheads marks a time where there is one less regulation controlling the worldwide production of nuclear arms. The INF treaty was additionally symbolic of a time where the US and Russia came to an agreement; the deteriorating US-Russia relations, exacerbated during the 2016 election, currently are not helped by breaking a treaty.

Though nuclear war is a constant, the scenario of missiles firing is almost unchanged from the previous status quo. Russia holds to a declaration that they will not deploy their warheads unless America fires first, and America does not have the position nor opportunity to attack anyone anytime soon.