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US President Donald Trump confirmed on October 20, 2018 that the United States will pull out of the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which it had signed with Russia during the Cold War.

Explaining the decision, Trump alleged that Russia has “violated” the agreement. He said that they have been violating it for many years. He said that the US would not let Russia violate a nuclear agreement and go out and develop the weapons while the US is not allowed to. “We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he added.

Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty?

The INF treaty was signed in December 1987 between the then US President Ronald Reagan and his USSR counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.

The treaty banned all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 km or 310–620 miles (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 km or 620–3,420 miles (intermediate-range).

Significance of the treaty

  • The treaty offered a blanket of protection to the United States’ European allies and marked a watershed agreement between two nations at the centre of the arms race during the Cold War.
  • It was designed to provide a measure of some strategic stability on the continent of Europe.

What led US to withdraw from the agreement?

  • The Trump Administration has repeatedly alleged that Russia has violated the treaty. The US insists the Russians have, in breach of the deal, developed a new medium-range missile called the Novator 9M729’– known to NATO as the SSC-8. The missile would enable Russia to launch a nuclear strike at NATO countries at very short notice.
  • In 2014, President Barack Obama had accused Russia of breaching the INF after it allegedly tested a ground-launched cruise missile. He, however, reportedly chose not to withdraw from the treaty under pressure from the European leaders, who said such a move could restart an arms race.
  • Recently, NATO officially confirmed Russia’s activity constituted a likely violation. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the military alliance remained concerned about Russia’s lack of respect for its international commitments, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
  • Stoltenberg stated that after years of denials, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of its new missile system‘9M729’.  However, Russia did not provide any credible answers on its new missile.
  • Russia’s failure to adhere to the agreement was also addressed in the most recent Nuclear Posture Review published by the Defense Department in February, which said Russia “continues to violate a series of arms control treaties and commitments.”

Other Factors

The INF treaty was a bilateral treaty between the US and the USSR. Hence, other nations such as China were free to develop and deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles without restraint.

This led many in the Trump administration to feel that the INF treaty placed them at a growing disadvantage in their developing strategic rivalry with China.

Russia’s reaction

According to reports, a Russian foreign ministry source has said that the US’s move is motivated by a ‘dream of a unipolar world’ where it is the only global superpower.

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to discuss the decision with US national security adviser John Bolton when he visits Russia this week.

Impact

The withdrawal of the United States from the treaty could provoke an arms race across Europe, similar to the one that was occurring when the agreement was initially signed in the 1980s.

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