By Daryl G. Kimball*
The loss of the landmark INF Treaty, which helped end the Cold War nuclear arms race, is a blow to international peace and security. Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But President Trump’s decision to terminate the treaty will not eliminate Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missiles — and is a mistake.
Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute arms control plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.
INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally-armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.
It is now critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control options to avoid a new Euromissile race.
One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that none of them will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.
This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air – and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system.
The loss of the INF Treaty makes extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) all the more important.
With less than two years to go before New START expires, Washington and Moscow need to begin working immediately to reach agreement to extend the treaty by five years. Despite their strained relations, it is in their mutual interest to maintain verifiable caps on their enormous strategic nuclear stockpiles.
Without New START, which limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly five decades.
Extending New START would provide a necessary foundation and additional time for any follow-on deal with Russia that addresses other issues of mutual concern, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, and understandings on the location and capabilities of missile defense systems and advanced conventional-strike weapons that each country is developing.
A treaty extension could also help put pressure on China to provide more information about its nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. China also might be more likely to agree to freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal or agree to limit a certain class of weapons, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, so long as the United States and Russia continue to make progress to reduce their far larger and more capable arsenals.
In the absence of the INF Treaty, we need more responsible arms control leadership on the part of all sides.
*The writer is Executive Director of the Arms Control Association. The above is the text of his statement issued on August 2.