A new nuclear arms race appears to be on the horizon. Yesterday, at NATO headquarters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a serious ultimatum to Russia; he told them they have three months (60 days) to verifiably comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) or the United States will withdraw from the treaty.[i] The Trump administration has flirted with abandoning the treaty prior to this, citing China’s buildup of arms in the Pacific.[ii] However, in 2014, the United States officially announced its knowledge of Russia’s violations, which they believed began in 2008; meaning this has been an ongoing diplomatic saga.[iii]
The strategic implications of dismantling the INF are staggering, even existentially threatening. Signed on December 8, 1987, the INF sought to constrain what had been an ever escalating nuclear arms race between the United States, then under President Ronald Reagan, and the Soviet Union, then under General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev,[iv] and twenty years hence—until Russia’s apparent breach in 2008—the Americans and the Russians destroyed 846 and 1,846 missiles, respectively.[v] The treaty also prohibited the possession, testing and deployment of ground launched missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.[vi]
Given those advances, Mr. Gorbachev and George Schultz, U.S. secretary of state at the time, in a Washington Post op-ed written yesterday, argue for the preservation of the INF and for “a broad strategic dialogue between the two countries.”[vii] They further argue that the path we are on now threatens our very existence. In that context, a platform where experts, diplomats and policymakers can openly discuss 21st century challenges to national security on both sides is essential now.[viii] The United States and Russia are poised to create an ever more dangerous world where strategic miscalculation can devastate the planet, or they hearken back to a moment of diplomacy, clarity and true progress towards significant nuclear arms reduction.
[i] Macias, Amanda. “Pompeo Gives Russia an Ultimatum: 60 Days to Comply with Nuclear Weapons Treaty or US Will Leave.” CNBC. December 04, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/04/us-gives-russia-an-ultimatum-and-60-days-on-nuclear-weapons-treaty.html.
[ii] Sanger, David E., and William J. Broad. “U.S. to Tell Russia It Is Leaving Landmark I.N.F. Treaty.” The New York Times. October 19, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/19/us/politics/russia-nuclear-arms-treaty-trump-administration.html.
[iii] Gordon, Michael R. “U.S. Says Russia Tested Missile, Despite Treaty.” The New York Times. January 30, 2014. Accessed December 05, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/world/europe/us-says-russia-tested-missile-despite-treaty.html.
[iv] “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).” U.S. Department of State. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://www.state.gov/t/avc/trty/102360.htm.
[v] Woolf, Amy F., “Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. October 29, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R43832.pdf
[vii] Gorbachev, Mikhail, and George P. Shultz. “We Participated in INF Negotiations. Abandoning It Threatens Our Very Existence.” The Washington Post. December 04, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-participated-in-inf-negotiations-abandoning-it-threatens-our-very-existence/2018/12/04/21c8bd20-f4cc-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d2f946862fc2.