US to withdraw from Cold War-era INF treaty with Russia; analysts warn against adverse consequences on global scale

US-Russia relations are likely to sour further with the Donald Trump administration announcing its decision to opt out of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on Saturday. The US president made the announcement amid speculation that Russia is developing a ground-launched system; an accusation that Moscow has consistently denied.

“Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump said, adding that, "They’ve been violating it for many years. I don’t know why president Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons [while] we’re not allowed to."

Trump said the United States will develop the weapons unless Russia and China agree to a halt on development. Russia, in response to the US' decision to nullify the treaty, warned against a "very dangerous step". Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Washington's withdrawal from the treaty would be a dangerous step and "would draw criticism from the global community".

 US to withdraw from Cold War-era INF treaty with Russia; analysts warn against adverse consequences on global scale

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin during the Helsinki summit. AP

The treaty is "significant for international security and security in the sphere of nuclear arms, for the maintenance of strategic stability", he added. Ryabkov also warned against possible "military-technical" retaliation.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a co-signatory of the INF treaty also said that Trump’s plan to quit the treaty was a mistake. "Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements. Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?” Gorbachev was quoted as saying. According to Interfax news agency, he added, "Quitting the INF is a mistake."

Newsweek reported that Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas also urged Trump to consider the potential result of nullifying the treaty. "The treat has for 30 years been an important pillar of our European security architecture,” Maas said in a statement issued on Sunday. “We have often urged Russia to address serious allegations that it is violating the agreement. We now urge the U.S. to consider the possible consequences.”

However, Britain "stood firmly" behind US' decision to pull out of the treaty.

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty?

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty bans medium-range missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska and ended a Cold War-era crisis when the Soviet Union installed nearly 400 nuclear warheads pointed at western Europe.

The INF was co-signed by then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and then-US president Ronald Reagan in 1987 and came into force by 1988. The treaty, signed at the near-end of the Cold War also prohibited the use, possession, production, or testing of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of around 480 to 5,400 kilometres. According to a report by CGTNthe INF did not cover sea-launched missiles.

The signing of the treaty was considered to be a watershed moment between the superpowers towards the end of the Cold War.

The Newsweek article said, "The US had been concerned about the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile system on the borders of Europe, and there were widepsread protests when it decided to deploy its Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe in response. By 1991, the treaty had resulted in the destruction of 2,700 missiles."

Possible consequences of nullifying the INF treaty

The INF has been a topic of contention since around 2007 when Russian president Vladimir Putin had said that the US had violated the treaty after it withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002. During former US president Barack Obama's term too, the US had in 2014, accused Russia of violations, but had stopped short of withdrawing from the treaty due to global concerns that doing so could result in an arms race.

CNN reported that according to some analysts, the withdrawal on behalf of the US could help Russia point to America as the reason for the treaty's death. The report quoted former US state department official Steven Pifer as saying, "Moscow will be free to deploy the 9M729 cruise missile, and an intermediate-range ballistic missile if it wants, without any restraint," Pifer added while noting that "the United States currently has no missile that it could quickly deploy to match the Russians."

The report added, "Russia's development of its cruise missile is also relatively much more advanced, meaning Moscow could begin deploying it much more widely should the treaty be terminated."

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Oct 22, 2018 16:26:19 IST