President Donald Trump surprised many observers over the weekend when he unexpectedly said the United States will be pulling out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. Trump’s reason for ending the landmark Cold War-era treaty? Russia has been flagrantly violating the deal. But Moscow immediately warned that withdrawing from the 1987 agreement would be “very dangerous” and automatically lead to a “military-technical” retaliation.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” Trump told reporters about the deal signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. “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.”
Although Trump cited Russian violations as the reason to leave the agreement, the New York Times had earlier reported that the White House wanted to nix the deal partly to be able to go head to head with China as it builds up its arms capability in the Pacific. Gorbachev criticized the decision Sunday. “Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements,” he said. “Is it really that hard to understand that rejecting these agreements is, as the people say, not the work of a great mind.”
Even some members of Trump’s own party criticized the decision, saying it raised concern about the possibility that the United States would drop out of other international agreements. “I hope we’re not moving down the path to undo much of the nuclear arms control treaties that we have put in place,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said. But Corker also said the whole thing may amount to bluster by Trump “to try to get Russia to come into compliance.” Sen. Rand Paul also raised alarm, saying it would be “a big, big mistake to flippantly get out of this historic agreement.”
Trump didn’t just receive criticism though, with British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson telling the Financial Times that the U.K. would support Trump’s decision because Moscow has made a “mockery” of the deal. Trump’s warning comes as his national security adviser, John Bolton, is scheduled to travel to Moscow. The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin will seek explanations from Bolton about the planned U.S. exit from the treaty.