US Withdraws from Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia

The United States pulled out of a 32-year nuclear deal with Russia on Friday, Feb. 1, citing breaches in the treaty made by Russia in recent years. The treaty, called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), was signed by former US President Ronald Reagan and Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Dealing with tensions from the Cold War, it incorporates a series of missile and weapons regulations, including a ban on land-based and ballistic missiles with a range of 310 to 3,410 miles.

The Trump administration announced their intent to withdraw from the agreement on Saturday night, with Trump saying “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” and explaining that  “Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years.” The specific violation that the administration cited was the Russian development of the the 9M729 — SSC-8 ground based cruise missile, whose range potential breached the terms set forth in the treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the validity of any such allegations and reciprocated the United State’s withdrawal from the treaty on Saturday, Feb. 2.

Upon pulling out, the US government hinted at a potential new nuclear deal which would include China, as well as Russia and potential other countries. Russia expressed interest in a new treaty, but the possibility remains abstract. In a statement soon after the Trump administration mentioned this possibility, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov expressed his country’s interest in the idea, further saying that “When our American colleagues actually get to the point where they give us something concrete, we will look at this with interest and I hope in a positive way.”

Meanwhile, another treaty between the two countries is set to expire, and Russian officials have expressed doubt at the US’ intent to continue it. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) was signed by former US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, as an extension upon the 1991 STAR Treaty. New Start, which limits the amount of missiles and nuclear missiles each country can possess, is set to expire in 2021. On Thursday, Feb. 7, following the previous weekend’s discussions, Ryabkov said the US has shown “no readiness or desire” to renew this treaty. US Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson countered this, telling reporters that “We have until 2021,” and “It is a relatively simple treaty to extend, so we have time with that.”

The INF treaty is set to end officially in August of 2019, while the future status, New STAR Treaty remains in question. While the state of both treaties remain relatively tentative, NATO members who were initially hopeful for the preservation of INF are now discussing the impact of its termination. Within the week after announcing their reciprocal withdrawal, the Russian administration ordered the construction and design of weapons previously banned by the INF treaty, emphasizing that they do not intend to store any such weapons in Europe until the US does so first.

Secretary Ryabkov has expressed his concern with the situation and the development of new weapons by both countries, saying, “It throws us many decades back to the ideology of nuclear battlefield weapons,” and  “There are just a couple of steps left … before the revival of nuclear artillery, nuclear mortars, nuclear mines, nuclear grenades, and other things like that. It appears to reflect the eagerness of those who have grown up in the age of computer games to easily push the button.”

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