President Trump announced today that the United States is withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia, according to CNN. The treaty, agreed upon by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in December of 1987, was ratified and went into effect in June of 1988. The INF treaty eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles and launchers with ranges between 310 and 3,420 miles, and played a key role in ending the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” said President Trump. “And I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to. We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement. But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re gonna terminate the agreement. We’re gonna pull out.”
The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement may have as much to do with China as with Russia. China has not been a part of the agreement, and as such, does not face any constraints in developing their intermediate-range nuclear missile programs. The administration fears that the United States is falling behind a potential new threat, a viewpoint shared by the Russians.
National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to discuss the treaty on his visit to Russia next week.
The treaty has slowly become less important over the years as fears of nuclear proliferation subsided while the United States and Soviet Union steadily dismantled most of their nuclear arsenals, and as each nation’s fears of China’s growing power grew.
In 2001, President George W. Bush gave Russia a six-month notice that the United States intended to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty so that the U.S. might pursue their National Missile Defense program, which had already been underway in violation of the agreement. In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia would no longer honor the INF treaty in response to growing U.S. missile defense programs that Russia felt were in violation of the treaty.
Since 2014, the United States and Russia have issued cross-accusations that the treaty had been violated. The U.S. formally notified Russia of an alleged breach of the agreement in July of 2014. In 2017, the United States again accused Russia of the deployment of prohibited weapons. In response to the alleged development and use of prohibited weapons, the United States began a research and development program on a new intermediate missile system, as research and development is within treaty provisions. Russia disagrees that the development program does not violate the treaty, and also accuses the United States of building Tomahawk missile facilities at bases in Poland and Romania.