Donald Trump announced today that the United States will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty due to material violations of the pact by Russia.
For several years, the U.S. has complained that Russia has developed a new ground-launched cruise missile that violates the terms of the deal.
“Across two administrations, the United States and our allies have attempted to bring Russia back into full and verifiable compliance with INF,” said the source. “Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency.”
That “transparency” is the problem. Despite numerous requests for Moscow to open up and show the missile’s characteristics, they have flatly refused.
The driving force in the administration behind the withdrawal has been National Security Adviser John Bolton. The former UN ambassador has been arguing for years in and out of government for a withdrawal, given President Vladimir Putin’s arrogant refusal to satisfy Western powers that Russia is in full compliance.
Naturally, the arms control lobby is up in arms over the withdrawal, as are most NATO countries. But even President Obama talked about pulling out of the deal as far back as 2014. He allowed NATO countries to talk him out of it at the time.
It’s understandable. Those Russian GLCMs would not be able to hit the U.S. They would be targeting Europe. President Reagan understood this and negotiated a deal with Gorbachev that, for the first time, eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons.
So European leaders are nervous about any move that would bring back the nightmare of missiles specifically targeting their cities. But this is a case where either the U.S. allows the Russians a distinct advantage with little or no response, or we withdraw from the treaty and start building our own missiles to match the Russians.
The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, released in February, called for the US to do research on its own ground-launched medium-range missiles as a way of pressuring Moscow back into INF compliance. It did not advocate leaving the treaty.
That review was completed before Bolton came to the White House and he is now seeking to toughen the administration’s nuclear stance further. Over the summer he brought into the White House another hardliner on arms control, Tim Morrison, the former Republican policy director on the House armed services committee, and between them they have taken the lead on arms control issues away from the state department.
Arms control agreements only work when both sides understand what’s permissible and what isn’t. There may have been steps we could have taken short of withdrawal, but given Russian intransigence, the U.S. was left with little choice.