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Fears Of New Arms Race As U.S., Russia Let Historic INF Treaty Lapse

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U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly accused Russia of developing weapons systems that they say are a violation of the INF treaty, which bans the use of intermediate-range missiles.

A landmark nuclear agreement that eliminated an entire class of land-based missiles formally ended on August 2 as both the United States and Russia officially withdrew from the 31-year-old deal.

The bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banned the Soviet Union and United States from developing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers after it was ratified by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan (right) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens while singing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington in 1987.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan (right) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens while singing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington in 1987.

"The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an August 2 statement about the U.S. withdrawal.

"Russia's noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia's development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners," Pompeo added.

Both the United States and NATO have accused Russia of violating the pact by deploying the 9M729 missile, know to NATO as the SSC-8.

NATO also blamed Russia for the treaty's demise and said a Kremlin request to declare a moratorium on deploying short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe wasn't credible since Russia had already deployed such arms.

"This is not a credible offer because Russia has deployed missiles for years. There is zero credibility in offering a moratorium on missiles they are already deploying," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels after the transatlantic alliance said in a statement that "Russia bears sole responsibility for the demise of the Treaty."
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"There are no new U.S. missiles, no new NATO missiles in Europe, but there are more and more new Russian missiles," he added

However, he said that NATO "does not want a new arms race" and confirmed there were no plans for the alliance to deploy land-based nuclear missiles of its own in Europe.

Russia, which has denied violating the INF Treaty, blamed the United States for its collapse.

"On August 2, 2019, at the initiative of the U.S. side, the treaty between the Soviet Union and the U.S. on the elimination of their medium-range and shorter-range missiles... was terminated," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

(Click graphic to enlarge.)

Critics have warned that the pullout from the INF Treaty could lead to a new arms race between the United States and Russia -- the successor state of the Soviet Union.

The INF and the successor to the Cold War-era START agreement to reduce strategic nuclear missile launchers, New START, a U.S.-Russia accord that entered into force in 2011, are two of the bedrocks of arms control between both the world's leading nuclear-armed states.

New START will lapse in early 2021 unless the U.S. and Russian presidents decide to extend it.

U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly accused Russia of developing weapons systems that they they say are a violation of the treaty, specifically the 9M729, or SSC-8, which according to NATO has a range of about 1,500 kilometers.

Moscow says the 9M729's range is under 500 kilometers and accuses the U.S. of breaking the deal.

But there have been other accusations and counteraccusations as well.

Senators who head head key committees laid the blame on Russia.

In a joint statement on August 1, Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Jim Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the treaty will end because of "Russia's deliberate violation" of its requirements.

Eighty-eight-year-old former Soviet leader Gorbachev told Russia's Interfax news agency in an interview published on August 1 that Washington's decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty was "making global politics unpredictable and its development chaotic."

He urged both parties to "concentrate on preserving the New START treaty as the last pillar of global strategic security" but added that "judging by statements by U.S. administration officials, its future is uncertain."

President Donald Trump on February 1 announced the U.S. plan to withdraw from the INF Treaty, saying it would suspend its obligations the following day and inform Russia that it would effectively withdraw from the accord in six months' time -- on August 2.

'Restoring Accountability'

In backing up its decision, the White House said it was "restoring accountability to arms control" and that "six years of diplomacy and more than 30 meetings have failed to convince Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. Enough is enough."

Trump has called for involving another major nuclear power, China, in future negotiations on nuclear weapons.

Russia announced in March that President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree suspending Moscow's implementation of the treaty, kicking off that country's months-long wind-down.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also accused U.S. officials on August 1 of eschewing efforts to "find common ground for discussing" issues related to the INF Treaty.

She said Washington had waged "an aggressive information campaign in the United States that turned everything upside-down and almost blamed Russia for being the first one to withdraw from the treaty," according to TASS.

Moscow will issue an INF-related statement on August 2, Zakharova said.

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On August 1, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas laid the blame for the end of the INF on Russia, saying it "has not done what was necessary to save the treaty."

He said the end of the INF spelled the loss of some European security and increased "challenges," and echoed the call for the preservation of New START as a "remaining pillar" of international arms control.

"Without the INF Treaty, as well as the soon expiring New START, there would be no legally-binding, verifiable limits on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century," the Arms Control Association (ACA), a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes public understanding and effective arms control policies, quoted the chairman of its board of directors, Thomas Countryman, as saying on the eve of the INF collapse.

The INF Treaty's demise comes as the international community is grappling with how to respond to a mounting arsenal of nuclear weapons in North Korea, and amid efforts by several world powers to save a landmark deal to curb Iran's nuclear program that the United States abandoned last year.

With reporting by Reuters, RFE/RL, Interfax, AFP
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