INF off: US officially withdraws from nuclear-arms treaty

Will the last one out of the INF room please turn off the glowing lights? The US has formally withdrawn from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces pact signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the death of the Cold War pact this morning, but in truth it had been in the go-through-its-pockets-and-look-for-loose-change state for the past several years:


The United States announced Friday it has formally withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Moscow, putting an end to a landmark arms control pact that has limited the development of ground-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday announcing the US’ formal withdrawal from the Cold-War era nuclear treaty.

Pompeo said “Russia failed to return to full and verified compliance through the destruction of its noncompliant missile system.”

While the initial announcement late last year surprised US allies, they quickly rallied behind the decision. The Trump administration had worked with its allies in Europe to build consensus on the withdrawal, most of whom have the same concerns over Russian mid-range missile systems. NATO had sharp words for Russia after Pompeo made it official:

NATO added its weight to the U.S. position Friday, stating that Russia “bears sole responsibility” for the treaty collapse and that the military alliance would now respond in a “measured and responsible way” to “risks posed by the Russian 9M729.”

9M729 is an alternative name for the SSC-8.

NATO said in June that Russia must dismantle the short-range system, or the military alliance will be forced to respond, adding that NATO-member defense ministers would now look at next steps “in the event that Russia does not comply.”


What next steps would that be? The US already has one answer and plans to test a new missile system to match the SSC-8, eventually. The US has other concerns than just Russia now, and the new system is also being designed to match another superpower who hadn’t been part of the INF:

The United States plans to test a new missile in coming weeks that would have been prohibited under a landmark, 32-year-old arms control treaty that the U.S. and Russia ripped up on Friday. …

But the U.S. also sees an upside to exiting the treaty. Washington has complained for years that the arms control playing field was unfair. U.S. officials argued that not only was Russia violating the treaty and developing prohibited weapons, but that China also was making similar non-compliant weapons, leaving the U.S. alone in complying with the aging arms control pact.

Now, the U.S. is free to develop weapons systems that were previously banned. The U.S. is planning a test flight of such a weapon in coming weeks, according to a senior administration official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the weapons development and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

If the only other country in a bilateral treaty is cheating on the core issue of the pact, a formal withdrawal changes nothing except to remove unilateral handcuffs. While an arms race is hardly good for anyone’s security or economy, adhering to a sham treaty is worse for both. If Russia and China want to compete economically and militarily with the US, we should at least have a level playing field.


What’s next? Most likely a few years of military spending on intermediate-range missile systems and missile-defense systems by all three nations, followed by the realization from Russia that it can’t afford an arms race on any scale while oil prices remain low. Vladimir Putin is already facing unrest at home, and further pressure on the economy will make that worse. China has its own economic woes at the moment, although this may not be as serious an issue for them. Eventually, talks will begin on a trilateral INF replacement, likely led by the EU, and the US will get a chance to force both Russia and China into compliance.

At least, that’s what the West hopes will happen. Unfortunately, the only two choices Russia left for the West was hope or capitulation.

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John Stossel 12:01 AM on November 30, 2023