Expert comment: The INF and the future of arms control

By , October 24, 2018

intermediate range missile question marks illustration

The United States' withdrawal today (August 2, 2019) from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has elicited criticism from many quarters, including from the leader who signed the landmark agreement on behalf of the Soviet Union in 1987. “Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?” former General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency.

The INF required destruction of US and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and their launchers and associated support structures and equipment; it was long considered central to the East-West arms control regime. In 2018, I asked a variety of global security experts for their views on the proposed US pullout, and what might be done to deal with intermediate-range nuclear weapons, if or when the United States ultimately left the INF. Their views are, most unfortunately, at least as relevant now that the INF lies in the dustbin of history as they were then.

mushroom cloud, hydrogen bomb

Can Trump abrogate the INF Treaty without Congress?

President Trump wants to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty signed by presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987. But can he do so without Congressional approval?
A Chinese DF-26 intermediate range missile and launcher.

We don’t have a missile gap in Asia. We have a diplomacy gap.

We have been down this Cold War road before. Eventually, we came to our senses and decided to build off-ramps in the form of treaties like INF. Why on Earth would we want to repeat the journey?

Arms control on the brink

Trump’s move to withdraw from the INF is an unnecessary and self-defeating own-goal (to use the soccer term) that together with the uncertain future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) has brought the US-Russia arms control framework to the brink of collapse.

Trump falls on sword for Putin’s treaty violation

Russia’s violation aside, Trump’s response—to pull out of the treaty—makes the United States needlessly complicit in its demise and frees Russia from both the responsibility and pressure to return to compliance.
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on October 22, 2018.

Ideology over interest? Trump’s costly INF decision.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz has urged what seems obviously to be the wisest course on the INF agreement: “We should fix it, not kill it.” Unfortunately, it appears that the INF is in the hands of treaty killers.

Who lost the INF Treaty?

Russia is not the only one responsible. The Obama administration appears to have seriously mishandled the issue.
EU_and_NATO map

The hope in Europe

In Europe, the initial reaction by thinkers and governments to the decision by President Donald Trump to walk away from the INF Treaty did not fully sync with the initial deploring response from many policy pundits in Washington.
An anti-nuclear weapons protest march, Oxford, England, 1980. Photo credit: Kim Traynor

The INF Treaty and the crises of arms control

There may be more of a constituency than many imagine for the goal of a nuclear weapon free world.

A mix of impatience and uncreativity

The witches’ brew of Trumpian volatility—an impetus to “do something,” particularly before an election, to prove he is tough with the Russians—combined with senior officials who actively oppose international law is potent indeed.
NATO flag missiles

Europeans to the rescue?

Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the INF treaty puts Europeans in a difficult spot. What should they do now?
President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in the East Room of the White House on December 8, 1987.

Why it could (but shouldn’t) be the end of the arms control era

Even before President Trump announced that he was pulling the United States from the INF agreement, the era of significant nuclear arms control agreements between the United States and Russia was in danger of ending. Such a development must be forestalled at all costs, because arms control efforts have over the last 50 years shown themselves to be remarkably effective.

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Sergio Duarte
Sergio Duarte
5 years ago

In the aftermath of the most destructive wars in the history of humanity the bases for peaceful and constructive relations among nations were developed and established by the Charter of the United Nations, to a large extent due to the leadership of the major powers. The advent of the nuclear weapon less than two months after the adoption of the Charter and the ensuing concern by the whole international community prompted the multilateral, regional and bilateral negotiation of a number of treaties, agreements and codes of conduct to deal with the different aspects of the changed security conditions. That normative… Read more »

Kansas City Search Engine Optimization

Can’t they just make the world a better place and try their best not to start the World War III? Seriously

Dr. T. Douglas Reilly
Dr. T. Douglas Reilly
5 years ago

The INF Treaty, officially the 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 was signed in the White House 8 December1987 by Chairman Gorbachev for the USSR and President Reagan for the USA. The treaty eliminates all missiles and launchers, nuclear and conventional, of both short-range (310-620 miles) and intermediate range (620-3,420 miles); it doesn’t cover sea-launched missiles. The US Senate ratified the treaty on 27 May 1988; it entered into force on 1 June 1988. The Senate voted 93-5 in favor. The President can… Read more »

Ian Turnbull
5 years ago

Thank you Sergio Duarte and Douglas Reilly for your broad brush strokes of the common sense negotiations amongst the ‘nuclear nations’ that have prevailed so far, because of the existence of nuclear weapons. I come to this whole subject with a fairly optimistic mindset. I’ll explain why. Firstly by saying that I worked as a geologist in Canada, and became involved in a search for uranium. That work made me curious about the energy in the atom. I acquainted myself with the knowledge of nuclear physics, of how there are “four-interactive-forces” in each and every atom. Physics identifies and names… Read more »

Tom W.
Tom W.
5 years ago

Another unfortunate step backwards. Intermediate range nuclear weapons have vanishingly few applications for an advanced nuclear power, but exponentially add to proliferation and nuclear escalation concerns. This is why the USA and USSR chose to ban them. Even if Russia is now violating that treaty, there is no increased threat to the USA nor are there any new reasons or applications where we would want intermediate range nuclear weapons. The USA could continue to be the leader on nuclear arms policy by staying in the treaty and holding the high ground rather than effectively greenlighting smaller powers around the world… Read more »