The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987, requires the United States and Russia “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles”.
However, since 2014 (July 2014 Compliance Report), the United States alleged that Russia was in violation of its INF Treaty obligations. While Russia was deploying the noncompliant missile in 2017, the Trump administration released an integrated strategy to counter alleged Russian violations of the Treaty.
Finally, Donald Trump announced, in October 2018, his intention to “terminate” the INF Treaty, citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s intermediate-range missile arsenal.
On Dec. 4th, the US gave Russia 60 days to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty or it will no longer abide by the agreement and could produce, test and deploy new missiles, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has warned.
According to Mike Pompeo, under the terms of the INF treaty, the US would have to give six months’ notice of withdrawal starting in February 2019. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said « During these 60 days we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period. (…) We’ve talked to the Russians a great deal. We’re hopeful they’ll change course, but there’s been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so. »
The USA and Russia failed to find a compromise during the 60 days ultimatum
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused the US of intransigence, saying Moscow had offered to allow US experts to inspect the suspect missiles. However, these new measures were not enough for the United States which was demanding the destruction of the missile system. Moscow’s top negotiator in Geneva, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov considered these demands as unacceptable.
“We explained to our Russian counterparts specifically what they would need to do in order to return to compliance in a manner that we can confirm, verifiable destruction of the non-compliant system” US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson
According to the Russian press (RT), Russia has suggested that rather than dropping the agreement, both sides could negotiate expanding it in order to include China, Iran, North Korea and other states. Russia also called on European nations to help influence Washington, saying they had a major stake in the issue and should not be « at the tail-end of the US position« .
Under German pressure, the US has already agreed to give a delay of two months before the notification and was not able to facilitate the discussions.
For NATO – 9M729 missiles are a threat for Europe
The withdrawal’s decision was supported by NATO foreign ministers, who issued a statement (meeting 4-5 Dec.) supporting the US accusations concerning the violations of INF Treaty:
Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security. We strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty.
NATO accuses Russia of developing land-based, intermediate-range cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting European cities at short notice. However, Russia says the missiles’ short range puts it outside the INF treaty since the Novator 9M729/SSC-8 rockets have a maximum range of 480 km.
This NATO statement was described as a rare showcase of solidarity between the United States and its allies “It’s one thing for the U.S. to come out and say it, but for NATO to say ‘We 29 allies know Russia is in breach’ is a strong, supportive agreement from NATO,” said Jim Townsend, the former top NATO policy official at the U.S. Defense Department under former President Barack Obama. “It’s saying, ‘We’re now confronting this thing head-on together.’”
This solidarity should be kept in mind since NATO allies would have to agree unanimously to have any new missile deployed in Europe.
Despite everything happened, NATO secretary general, and some European nations such as Germany, still hope for diplomatic progress during the six-month withdrawal process.
A new missile race is also a threat for Europe
The Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov warned Europe is the biggest loser from the decision from the US to exit the INF treaty. “It was evident in 1987 and continues to be: the big winner was Europe, because Europe was the place where American medium and shorter-range missiles were deployed – and Europe was consequently the target of similar Soviet missiles.”
Everyone in Europe fears that the failure of negotiation and the end of this treaty may start a new missile race in Europe undermining European security. According to BBC expert, the fear is that the collapse of the INF agreement could help to unravel the whole system of arms control treaties, which have been so important in maintaining strategic stability
Reactions from Russia and China after the formal withdraw of the USA
Russia said it will work on new missiles including hypersonic weapons, and Vladimir Putin told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington.
China regrets the decision and rejects any step towards the multilateralization- “What is imperative at the moment is to uphold and implement the existing treaty instead of creating a new one,” the China’s Foreign ministry added.
The EU – the most notable absentee
The most surprising is the no response from the EU’s foreign ministers. Only the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, said during a press conference on Friday 1st Feb:
“European countries and the European Union as such are not parties to the INF [Treaty] but Europe has been probably the one that has benefited the most from this Treaty that we have valued enormously, that we value enormously. Our wish and our call is for this Treaty to be preserved with full compliance by both parties and you know where the issue stands there. “
Federica Mogherini also mentioned a “statement in a couple of hours” – that is still not released since Member States couldn’t agree on wording. The INF file is unfortunately not an exception, and is a concrete example of how difficult it is with the unanimity process in the Foreign Affairs Council.
Politico adds that “Monday, February 4, 2019 could go down in the history books as the day a fatal blow was dealt to the EU’s attempts to be taken seriously on a global stage – Disagreement and non-action as a result of every EU country having a veto in foreign policy became the norm on Monday, not the exception “ mentioning also the absence of conclusions on Arab League or the no joint position on Venezuela.
After the INF Treaty, what is next?
The US has suspended observance of the agreement, giving six-month notice of a complete withdrawal, which could come into effect on 2 August. US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison underlined that Russia will have six months after the US withdrawal to prove compliance with the treaty, if Moscow wishes to preserve the agreement.
It is interesting to read a paper from The Arms Control Association “after the INF Treaty, what is next?” explaining different options:
- Advance new weapons systems: although Russia has open production lines for the 9M729, the United States is still in the early stages of development of a treaty-busting missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [GLCM] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities. The cost today to develop a new ballistic missile system would be higher given that several decades have passed since the development of the Pershing II (moreover the 1,800-kilometer range of the Pershing II has no utility against China).
Even if the US were to develop the weapons, they would need to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia and China. So far, no country has said that it would be willing to host such missiles.
- The multilateralization: Russia approached the United States in 2007 and the two sides then jointly proposed in a UN General Assembly resolution to multilateralize the INF Treaty. The idea has been around for more than a decade, and China is highly unlikely to join an agreement that would require eliminating the bulk of its missile arsenal.
- NATO: other options that might be pursued include a pledge from the US and Russia not to be the first to deploy intermediate-range missile systems anywhere in or within range of NATO members in Europe, limiting the number of intermediate-range missiles instead of banning them completely, and prohibiting nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.