After a solid five years of accusing Russia of being in violation of the pact, the United States announced Friday it has formally begun the process of withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This begins the end of the Cold War-era treaty, and caps months of such threats unless Russia gave in to a series of US demands. NATO as a whole issued a statement endorsing the deal, while Germany criticized it as making the world less safe.
The accusations of Russian violations were never proven, and honestly were mostly beside the point. The Trump Administration has a number of officials who have a problem with arms treaties as such for limiting America’s development of new nuclear arms, and this offered a pretext for the administration to insist the pullout, and any consequences, are Russia’s fault.
This could be a very dangerous step in the direct of nuclear arms races, one which follows President Trump having explicitly threatened new arms races several times since his election. The death of the INF also bodes ill for the rest of the Cold War-era pacts. President Trump and other officials have openly scorned the much broader New START, and have avoided any negotiations with Russia on extending it.
Today’s move out of INF means that treaty will be withdrawn from within six months, after a cooling off period. That gives Russia some time to try to make officials see reason. Russia, however, has already given public access to the physical missiles in question, and the US said it was “not good enough,” demanding Russia either scrap the missiles of physically give them to the US to take apart.
INF forbids either side from deploying land-based nuclear missiles with 500km to 5,000km ranges, which in practice forbade the US from having nukes in Europe. Since the deal, the US has replaced that class of missiles with submarine-based ones, so it’s unclear that even without the treaty the US has much reason to start developing new missiles, beyond spite.
On top of that, it’s not clear how many NATO states in Europe would be comfortable hosting American nuclear weapons in the first place. The Cold War is long over, and while some NATO officials are comfortable hyping Russia as a grave threat, few nations are likely to want to make themselves a priority target in a nuclear war by hosting such arms.
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