In this Dec. 8, 1987, file photo, President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the two leaders signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Photo: AP Photo/Bob Daugherty
Photo: AP Photo/Bob Daugherty

What is the INF treaty and why did the U.S. pull out of it?

President Donald Trump announced Friday that the United States will be pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the height of the Cold War.

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The treaty, which was signed more than three decades ago, had been continually violated by Russia, the U.S. has claimed for years.

“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement released on Friday.

“The U.S. withdrawal pursuant to Article XV of the treaty takes effect today because Russia failed to return to full and verified compliance through the destruction of its noncompliant missile system — the SSC-8 or 9M729 ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile,” the statement read.

What is the INF treaty and why did the U.S. pull out of it? Here’s a look at the treaty and what it means for the U.S. to walk away.

What is the INF treaty?

The U.S., alarmed by the Soviet Union's deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range missiles in the mid-1970s, sought a treaty to ban new nuclear weapons and eliminate those already aimed at targets in Europe.

The treaty, formally called the “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles,” signed in 1987, banned all nuclear and nonnuclear missiles that have a short and medium range.
The ban included missiles that could be launch at a target that is between 310 to 3,400 miles (short-range) and targets that are between 620 to 3,420 miles (intermediate-range).

The treaty did not affect missiles launched from sea or ones that would be launched from aircraft. 

The treaty was ratified by the Senate on May 27, 1988. Three years later in 1991, 2,692 missiles had been destroyed through a provision in the treaty — 846 by the U.S. and 1,846 by the Soviet Union.

What led to the decision to pull out of the treaty?

U.S. authorities had suspected that Russia had violated the treaty in the years following its ratification, and Russia fired similar claims at the United States.

In 2007, Russia announced it was planning to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty because of deployment of defensive NATO missile systems in Europe, and the U.S. involvement in those systems.

A year later, in 2008, Russia violated the treaty, according to the United States, when it tested new cruise missiles.

The U.S. claimed Russia violated the treaty again in 20132014 and 2017 with testing of developing missile systems.

Russia claimed in 2016 that the U.S. clearly violated the treaty when it deployed a missile defense system in Europe and when Trump approved a $25 million program to develop a new cruise missile with a range of 621 miles.

The back and forth came to a head in October 2018, when the U.S. announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty.

“They've (the Russians) been violating it for many years,” Trump said at a rally on that day.

Days before the announcement, amid talk that the U.S. may be pulling out of the treaty, Putin promised that Russia would never be the aggressor in a nuclear war, but said Russia was ready to "annihilate" any attacker who would use nuclear weapons against it.

"An aggressor should know that vengeance is inevitable, that he will be annihilated, and we would be the victims of the aggression,” Putin said. “We will go to heaven as martyrs, and they will just drop dead. They will not even have time to repent for this," he said.

On Oct. 26, 2018, Russia called for a vote of the U.N. General Assembly to consider urging the U.S. to work with Russia to preserve the treaty, but the vote failed.

On Oct. 30, NATO called on Russia to prove its compliance with the treaty in the face of “the deployment of new Russian missiles.”

Putin announced on Nov. 20 that the Kremlin was ready to talk about the INF.

On Dec. 4, the U.S. State Department informed Putin that Russia had 60 days to comply with the treaty. The next day, Russia rolled out a combat laser.

summit held in January failed to produce an agreement on moving forward with the treaty.

Three days later, on Feb. 2, the U.S. announced that it would formally withdraw from the treaty. Putin made a similar announcement.

A six-month timeline for full withdrawal was required under the conditions of the treaty. Those six months ran out Friday, and the announcement was made that the U.S. had formally withdrawn from the treaty.

Is there an upside to leaving the treaty?

While it seems that leaving in place a treaty that limits nuclear weapons would be a good thing, some U.S. officials argue that a treaty that was continually being broken by Russia simply tied the hands of the U.S. when it comes to maintaining its defenses.

The treaty prevented the United States from moving forward on development, testing and use of a certain class of weapons. In the meantime, Russia was violating the treaty, and China, which was never a part of it, continues to improve and increase its store of nuclear weapons.

According to a story from Politico, the U.S. is already planning to test a new missile system in the coming weeks, one that has been banned under the treaty signed three decades ago.

What are people saying about the withdrawal

Here are a few things people are saying about the decision to withdraw from the treaty:

  • “The denunciation of the INF treaty confirms that the U.S. has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday. “This leads to the actual dismantling of the existing arms control system.”
  • “Pulling out of this treaty leaves New START as the only bilateral nuclear arms agreement between the U.S. and Russia,” said physicist David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "If (President Donald) Trump pulls out of that treaty as well or allows it to lapse, it will be the first time since 1972 that the two countries will be operating without any mutual constraints on their nuclear forces.”
  • “Unilateral constraint was a losing proposition: China developed the world’s foremost force of missiles precisely within the ranges that I.N.F. would prohibit,” said Andrew Erickson, a professor of strategy at the United States Naval War College told The New York Times. “So this increasingly antiquated treaty had no future.”
  • "With the end of the INF treaty, a bit of security in Europe is being lost," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this week. "Now we call all the more on Russia and the U.S. to preserve the New START treaty as a cornerstone of worldwide arms control.
  • “We don’t want a new arms race,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, but reiterated that Russia is solely to blame for the U.S. decision to leave the historic arms-control treaty signed three decades ago.
  • The INF treaty “has been extremely successful in the destruction of a total of 2,692 missiles” within the specified range, said Bonnie Jenkins, the former coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department. “Instead of highlighting this accomplishment, we are opening up the possibility of a new arms race by destroying limitations set forth in the treaty. This is another step backwards in our arms-control relations with Russia.”
  • “When something like the INF goes down the drain almost like nothing, it shows you the degree to which people have forgotten the power of these weapons,” George Shultz, who served as Reagan’s secretary of state, told Voice of America on Thursday. ”One day it’ll be too late.”

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