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Trump plans to scrap INF treaty with Russia create risks in Europe



trump nevada
Donald Trump at a rally in Nevada, October 20,

AP Photo

  • President Donald Trump says he wants to withdraw from
    the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.
  • The treaty, signed in 1987, banned US and Russian use
    of ground-launched missiles with ranges between about 300 and
    3,400 miles.
  • Scrapping the deal now may exacerbate tensions between
    the US and Europe, and it could spark a new missile

At a rally in Nevada on October 20, President Donald Trump said
he would pull the US out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces
treaty signed by the US and the Soviet Union in 1987.

The US has repeatedly said in recent years that Russia was in
violation of the treaty and that Moscow’s renewed embrace of
those weapons put the US at a disadvantage. US officials have
also pointed to
intermediate-range missiles developed by China, which is not an
INF treaty signatory, a reasons to forgo the deal.

But in Europe, where many countries watch Russia warily,
scrapping the deal and seeking to redeploy intermediate-range
missiles is likely to be greeted with resistance and may
exacerbate strains that already exist between US partners on the

Putin Trump
Trump with Russian
President Vladimir Putin.


The INF treaty was signed by President Ronald Reagan and
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 and approved by the US
Senate in a 93-5 vote.

It banned ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500
kilometers and 5,500 kilometers, or about 310 miles and 3,400
miles. It led to the dismantling of nearly 2,700 short- and
medium-range missiles belonging to both the US and the USSR.

The accord also diffused a standoff that began in the late 1970s,
when the Soviets deployed SS-20 intermediate-range nuclear
missiles and the US responded by deploying Pershing II nuclear
missiles. (A protest movement in Western
Europe helped bring Moscow to sign the treaty.)

Now, however, Russia’s violations put the US at a disadvantage,
according to Trump.

“We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he said on October
20. “We’re going to terminate the agreement, and we’re going to
pull out.”

NATO leaders family photo
Donald Trump and other NATO members at the 2018 NATO Summit in
Brussels, July 11, 2018.

Gallup/Getty Images

The US has not formally withdrawn, which would take six
months once formal notice is given.

But John Bolton, Trump’s national-security adviser and a
longtime critic of the treaty, reportedly plans to tell the Kremlin of
the US’s intention to pull out during a visit to Moscow this

Dissolving the landmark treaty could exacerbate divides
within Europe, where countries have differing views on common
defense and where ties with the US have been strained under

In Central and Eastern Europe, where there is “a much more
hard-edged” view toward Russia, US withdrawal is unlikely to
cause much concern, said Jim Townsend, an adjunct senior fellow
in the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New
American Security.

But among other longtime US allies in Western Europe —
those nations where arms control
has always been an important part of a national-security regime,”
Townsend said — withdrawal was likely to be much more

“With this particular
arms-control agreement, which dealt with nuclear weapons in
Europe that could be used in a conventional fight in Europe …
that still carries this resonance in those capitals,” Townsend
said. “In conjunction with everything else that Trump has said
about Europe and about NATO and about the EU, it’s just another
body blow.”

Ronald Reagan Mikhail Gorbachev INF Intermediate range nuclear forces treaty signing
Ronald Reagan, right, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
exchange pens during the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
signing ceremony at the White House, December 8,

(AP Photo/Bob

“Things are just now calming
down” between the US and its European allies, Jon Wolfsthal, a
nuclear expert on the National Security Council under President
Barack Obama, told The New York Times on
October 19. “This would be another hand grenade in the middle of
NATO to split the allies.”

On Monday, the EU called the INF “a pillar of
European security architecture” and said the US and Russia “need
to remain engaged in constructive dialogue” to preserve it and
ensure full implementation.

French President Emmanuel Macron
addressed withdrawal with Trump in a phone call a day after he
announced it, “underlin[ing] the importance of this treaty,
especially with regards to European security,” the French Foreign
Ministry said.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko
Maas, said Trump’s withdrawal was “regrettable” and would raise
“difficult questions for us and Europe.”

British Defense Secretary Gavin
Williamson said London “want[ed] to see
this treaty continue to stand” but partially backed the US,
saying “one party” to the treaty is ignoring it and that the UK
would be “absolutely resolute” with the US “in hammering home a
clear message that Russia needs to respect the treaty.”

‘Some viable trade space’

Pershing II missile West Germany Cold War
Pershing II missile on a semi-trailer at the US missile base in
Mutlangen, West Germany, after the press was given a chance to
inspect the base, May 20, 1987.

Photo/Thomas Kienzle

Tensions between Russia and other
countries in Europe have been elevated since 2014, when Moscow
annexed Crimea and militarily intervened in Ukraine. That year,
the Obama administration said publicly for the first time that
Russia was violating the INF.

At the end of 2017, a National Security Council official revealed that the Russian
missile causing the violation was the Novator 9M729, a land-based
cruise missile designated by NATO as the SSC-8.

Russia has also accused the US of
violating the treaty, pointing specifically to the Aegis Ashore
ballistic missile defense system, which Moscow believes could be
repurposed for offensive uses.

The US has rebutted those claims, which are part of “a
false narrative” about Western missile-defense systems pushed by
Moscow, said Townsend, who was deputy assistant secretary of
defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama

But by ditching the INF treaty
now, critics say Trump is abandoning potential solutions and may
find European partners uninterested in a renewed missile

us missile shield nato romania
command center for a ballistic missile defense site at Deveselu
air base in Romania, May 12, 2016.

Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via

“There is no evidence that all
possible diplomatic options have been exhausted,” said Alexandra
Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and

“The United States wants the
Russians to verifiably dismantle the currently deployed 9M729
missiles and provide inspection opportunities so Washington can
be sure the missiles are no longer being produced,” Bell

“Russia wants to be
assured that our missile-defense installations cannot be used for
offensive capabilities,” which could be done through

“Therein lies some viable trade
space,” Bell added.

Russia has criticized Trump’s
plans to withdraw — Gorbachev called it “not the work of a great
mind” — saying it could trigger a new arms race in Europe. Moscow
has said it was willing to work on
mutual grievances with the current treaty.

“What does scrapping the INF treaty mean? It means that the
United States is not disguising but is openly starting to develop
these systems in the future,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov
said Monday, leading Russia to
respond in kind “to restore balance in this sphere.”

‘Stay there until the treaty is fixed’

West Germany Cold War Pershing II nuclear missile protest
German soldiers carry a banner reading “Soldiers against an
Euroshima No new nuke missiles” through Hamburg during a rally of
about 200,000 protesters against Pershing II missile deployment,
October 22, 1983.


On Monday, Trump reiterated that Russia had violated the
agreement and said “until people come to
their senses … we’ll build it up,” appearing to refer to US
nuclear capabilities. He included China in his comments.

US officials, including Bolton, have said sea- and air-launched
intermediate-range missiles could be fielded in lieu of
redeploying ground-based missiles. (Congress has also authorized research on a
ground-launched missile that would violate the treaty if tested.)

But finding countries in Europe to host new missiles may be a

While the UK, West Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium
were willing to host hundreds of so-called Euro-missiles in the
1980s, “None of them appear willing to accept them now,” Michael
Krepon, cofounder of the Stimson Centre think tank, wrote on Monday.

Even Germany, where NATO bases and infrastructure may
become priority targets, may not seek additional defenses. Berlin
would likely signal very early that it would not host missiles
should the US seek to return them to Europe, Townsend

It would show Berlin that the US it is used to dealing with is
“continuing to trend in another direction,” Townsend added.

theresa may angela merkel emmanuel macron
Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and
French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting in Brussels,
October 19, 2017.

Dan Kitwood/Getty

Rather than buying more weapons, he said, Germany would likely
“turn to the EU and to Europe more broadly … and say, we need
… to play a stronger hand in Western security, a stronger hand
in terms of dealing with the Russians, a stronger hand in
standing on our own feet.”

The Trump administration has yet to give official notice of INF
withdrawal. While lawmakers have expressed dismay at the idea,
there is little they can do to stop it, but they do have leverage over what would come

Congress can withhold or limit money for ground-launched
intermediate-range missiles, which the treaty currently
prohibits. The Senate would also have to approve any replacement
treaty worked out by the US and Russia.

The six-month exit period would also gives time for additional
pressure to be brought to bear on the US and Russia.

“European leaders need to press President Trump and
President Putin to go back to the negotiating table and stay
there until the treaty is fixed,” Bell, of the Center for Arms
Control and Non-Proliferation, said in an email.

“Congress can also demand to know any and all efforts that
have been made and could be made to preserve the treaty,” which
could be done through hearings, Bell added. “If met with
resistance, Congress can withhold funds for certain nuclear

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