The United States is suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty in response to Russia’s material breach and is providing the requisite six-month written notice of its withdrawal of the INF Treaty. This is key message of NATO’s North Atlantic Council (NAC) on Friday, 1 February, to explain why the US intends to withdraw from the treaty signed in 1987. The treaty bans all ground-based Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) with a range between 500 and 5,500 km. The message made the news around the world but was no real surprise. NATO and the US had warned Russia several times before.
According to the NATO statement, Russia will bear the sole responsibility for the end of the treaty unless Russia demonstrates its INF Treaty obligations through the verifiable destruction of all of its 9M729 systems (also called SSC-8), thereby returning to full and verifiable compliance before the U.S. withdrawal takes effect in six months.
Following nearly six years of US and allied engagement with Russia, NATO declared already in December 2018 that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty, and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security. Allies support the finding of the US that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty and called upon Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance.
The NAC said that the US is taking this action in response to the significant risks posed by Russia’s covert testing, production, and fielding of 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile systems. Therefore, the NAC stated: “We urge Russia to use the remaining six months to return to full and verifiable compliance to preserve the INF Treaty.”
Russian reactions came immediately. Just one day later, President Vladimir Putin rejected all American accusations and denied that Russia is violating the treaty. In a televised meeting Putin said that since the US have announced their withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Russia will suspend it as well. Putin instructed his Foreign and Defence Minister not to initiate any disarmament talks with Washington accusing the US for not supporting Russian initiatives.
Some observers are already concerned that the Trump-Administration might also cancel the New START Treaty. In this treaty signed in 2010, the US and Russia agreed to reduce the number of warheads and launchers for their strategic missiles. If the US-Administration should cancel this agreement, it would not only be a serious blow for the New START Treaty but also a dramatic setback for all international efforts concerning arms control and disarmament.
Whatever happens, the INF Treaty will remain on top of the political agenda. Next opportunities to discuss this crucial issue are the NATO Defence Minister Meeting from 13 to 14 February and the Munich Security Conference 2019 from 15 to 17 February. There are six months to find a viable solution. The clock is ticking!
Dr. Theodor Benien