On Saturday, President Donald Trump announced the United States would be pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, citing alleged Russian cheating since 2014 as the rationale. The Kremlin has responded by saying the move could ignite a new arms race.
“This is a question of strategic security. Such measures can make the world more dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. “It means that the United States is not disguising, but is openly starting to develop these systems in the future, and if these systems are being developed, then actions are necessary from other countries, in this case Russia, to restore balance in this sphere.”
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty with the late American President Ronald Reagan in 1987, described Trump’s decision as “not the work of a great mind” and “very strange.”
Withdrawing from the treaty satisfies the long-held agenda of National Security Advisor John Bolton, who opposes arms control on principle. The move is also in keeping with the foreign policy instincts of President Trump, who distrusts international agreements and has previously withdrawn from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
Although framed as a punishment of Russia, being unshackled from the INF treaty might also serve the agenda of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Writing in Slate, the journalist Fred Kaplan argues that “withdrawing would give the Russians exactly what they want. When George W. Bush was president, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov implored Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld several times to make a deal allowing both sides to get out of this treaty, which Russian officers had never liked. Rumsfeld ignored the request, knowing that there was no appetite in the U.S. or NATO for bringing back the ground-launched cruise missile or the Pershing II. In other words, a joint pullout would help only the Russians—and do nothing for the U.S. or the West. Trump is now about to commit the mistake that Rumsfeld avoided.”
If America is going to pursue an arms race in Europe to counter Russian medium-range missiles, it would need buy-in from European allies. But in point of fact, the very act of pulling out of the INF treaty is adding further stress to the already tense relations America and those allies. This morning the German Foreign Office tweeted:
Trump has torn up the treaty to punish Russia but there’s no evidence that the United States has a strategy to deal with a post-treaty world.