What Trump’s Nuclear Treaty Withdrawal Means
On Sunday, Oct. 21, President Trump told reporters in Nevada that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, a key weapons treaty from the Cold War that has been in effect since 1987. America’s withdrawal is due to accusations that Russia has violated the treaty. “We’re the ones who have honored the agreement,” Trump said. “Russia has unfortunately not honored the agreement.”
According to the State Department, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF treaty in an attempt to ban both the U.S. and the Soviet Union from having “ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,000 kilometers.” This means that all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges were banned, unless they were sea-launched weapons. The treaty also required the complete destruction of the missiles, launchers, and associated support structures and equipment. By 1991, almost 2,700 missiles were destroyed.
The Cold War, which extended from 1945 to 1989, marked a time of intense tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and was characterized by the threat of nuclear conflict. Many of those tensions and implications are still present today; Trump’s comments were an immediate cause for concern. Gorbachev himself said Trump’s plan to withdraw indicates a reversal of efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov, said that withdrawal from the treaty “would be a very dangerous step that should arouse serious condemnation of all those who are committed to security and stability.”
A decision to walk away may indicate a significant setback for arms control, and could possibly lend to a wider unraveling of treaties that were established to curb competition during the Cold War. Whether President Trump follows through on his promises or not, merely commenting on the possibility has made many people worried.
However, this is not the first time that U.S. officials have accused Russia of violating the agreement. The Obama administration claimed that Russia violated the treaty in 2014 because the country tested a ground-launched cruise missile. In 2017, General Paul Selva told Congress that military officials believed that Russia had deployed a land-based cruise missile. In both cases, choosing to withdraw from the treaty was not pursued due to pressure from European leaders who were concerned that a withdrawal could restart an arms race.
Russia has also expressed indications of ending the agreement on their end. In 2007, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin declared that the treaty no longer served Russia’s interests. This declaration came five years after the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which was signed between the two countries in in 1972.
In the years since the Cold War, both Russia and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction when it comes to obeying decades-old weapons treaties. Often, these public accusations don’t go anywhere. It’ll remain to be seen whether this time, things are different; Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, is traveling to Moscow this week to discuss the U.S.’s plans with President Vladimir Putin. If the U.S. does withdraw, this may be an indication of bigger things to come. Like many political moves, however, it may end up being just talk.
Laura Myers is a lead contributor for The Daily Lead.