Dhaka Courier

The end to the INF treaty

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Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF Treaty. Photo: Internet

It may be recalled that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), a formal Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles) has been a 1987 arms control agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union (and later its successor state the Russian Federation).

Signed in Washington, D.C. by President Ronald Reagan and head of Soviet Union (General Secretary of the Communist Party), Mikhail Gorbachev on 8 December 1987, the treaty was ratified by the United States Senate on 27 May 1988 and came into force on 1 June 1988.

The INF Treaty eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometers (310–620 mi) (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 km (620–3,420 mi) (intermediate-range). However, the treaty did not cover sea-launched missiles.  By May 1991, 2,692 missiles were eliminated, followed by 10 years of on-site verification inspections.  The Treaty kept the world secure from nuclear war.

On 20 October 2018, it is alleged that on Russian non-compliance, US President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing the US from the treaty.

Numerous prominent nuclear arms control experts, including George Shultz, Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn, urged Trump to preserve the treaty. Russian president Vladimir Putin announced on 20 November 2018 that the Kremlin was prepared to discuss INF with Washington but would "retaliate" if the United States withdrew from the Treaty.

By the treaty's deadline of 1 June 1991, a total of 2,692 of such weapons had been destroyed, 846 by the US and 1,846 by the Soviet Union. Under the treaty both nations were allowed to inspect each other's military installations. Each nation was permitted to render inoperative and retain 15 missiles, 15 launch canisters and 15 launchers for static display.

It is worth taking note that on 13 December 2001, President of the US, George W. Bush gave Russia a 6-month notice of US intent to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so that the US could pursue development of the program at that time known as National Missile Defense (NMD), which was already under way in potential violation of US treaty obligations.

On 10 February 2007, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared that the INF Treaty no longer served Russia's interests. On 14 February, the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia and Interfax quoted General Yuri Baluyevsky, the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as saying that Russia could pull out of the INF, and that the decision would depend on the United States' action.

Both countries allege the other has violated the treaty. The US accused Russia of violating treaty terms by testing the SSC-8 cruise missile in 2008. The accusation was brought up again in 2014 and 2017. In 2013, reports came out that Russia had tested and planned to continue testing two missiles in ways that could violate the terms of the treaty: the SS-25 road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and the newer RS-26 ICBM although neither missile are intermediate range missiles.

Russia argues that the American decision to establish bases capable of launching Tomahawk missiles in Poland and Romania is a violation of the treaty.

President Donald Trump mentioned at a campaign rally that the reason for the pullout was because "they've [Russia has] been violating it for many years. It is reported that the allegation against Russia prompted Putin to state that Russia would not launch first in a nuclear conflict but would "annihilate" any adversary. Russians killed in such a conflict "will go to heaven as martyrs".

It was also reported that the United States' need to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific was another reason for their move to withdraw, because China is not a signatory to the treaty. US officials extending back to Obama period have noted this; for example Kelly Magsamen, who helped craft the Pentagon’s Asian policy under the Obama administration, said China’s ability to work outside of the INF treaty had vexed policymakers in Washington, long before Trump came into office.

A write-up noted the different responses US officials gave to this issue: "Either find ways to bring China into the treaty or develop new American weapons to counter it" or "negotiating a new treaty with China."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said a unilateral U.S. withdrawal would have a negative impact and urged the United States to "think thrice before acting. National Security Adviser of the US, a hardliner, John R. Bolton reportedly said that the recent Chinese statements would suggest it wanted Washington to stay in the treaty.

On 20 October 2018, the United States declared its intention to withdraw from the treaty. Reuters reported that on 25 October 2018 "European members of NATO urged the United State to try to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty rather than quit it, seeking to avoid a split in the alliance that Moscow could exploit." The threat came to pass in January, as the US categorically pulled out, citing Russia’s non-compliance.

On 1st February 2019,  the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly  reiterated that the US would reconsider its withdrawal from INF Treaty effective in six months if Russia would not return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty within the six-month period by verifiably destroying its INF-violating missiles, their launchers, and associated equipment, the treaty will terminate. That possibly however has been decisively curtailed as Russia responded by declaring it too was pulling out of the treaty, setting the stage for a new, or accelerated arms race in the foreseeable future.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

  • The end to the INF treaty
  • Issue 31
  • Barrister Harun ur Rashid
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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