Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will reportedly announce Friday the suspension of a Cold War-era nuclear pact with the Russia that prohibits the development and deployment of intermediate nuclear missiles in Europe. The Trump White House has been signaling its displeasure with what it says is Moscow’s flouting of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and gave Russia until Feb. 2nd to get in compliance with the accord that has been a staple of European security in the post-Cold War era. After a set of negotiations failed however, the U.S. appears ready to initiate a suspension of the accord , which starts the countdown on the six-month required notice to exit the treaty altogether.
The fundamental sticking point for the U.S. government is a missile system developed by the Russians that Washington says violates the INF treaty. The U.S. says Russia tested the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile in 2014 at a range that violates the pact and that Moscow later deployed the weapon in 2017. In October 2018, NATO declared Russia in violation, prompting Sec. Pompeo, in Dec., to set the Feb. 2 deadline for Russian compliance. “The only way [Russia] can get the system back into compliance is to destroy the system,” Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson told reporters last week. “Destroy the missile. There is no way to alter it, there is no way to change it, there is no way to adjust the fuel cycle.” Russia denies it’s violating the terms of the treaty.
There are a number of worrying trendlines in the dispute and possible dissolution of the landmark agreement signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the tail end of the Cold War. The end of the agreement could give Moscow far greater leeway to deploy strategic nuclear weapons that would put much of Europe within reach. That’s an obvious concern for America’s European allies that are already spooked by the Trump administration’s permissive attitude towards Moscow and hostility towards NATO. Also, there are indications that a faction of the Trump administration—and Congress—aren’t all that interested in keeping the INF treaty, in its current form, intact. Trump national security adviser John Bolton has called the treaty outdated and some lawmakers say its constraints have allowed China to gain a military advantage.
“If the U.S. pulls out of the INF treaty, the only remaining pact regulating the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals would be an agreement that expires in 2021,” Bloomberg notes.
“New START, signed in 2010 by then-Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, sets limits on overall totals for nuclear weapons for each side. The treaty can be extended for five years if both sides agree. No talks have begun on prolonging the deal.”