Expert comment: The INF and the future of arms control

By , October 24, 2018

intermediate range missile question marks illustration

President Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) 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 has long been considered central to the East-West arms control regime. As US national security adviser John Bolton was in Moscow in October 2018 to meet with Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, on the INF and other security issues, the Bulletin 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 the United States does ultimately leave the INF.

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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