US formally withdraws from 1987 nuclear pact with Russia

US formally withdraws from 1987 nuclear pact with Russia

The 9M729 land-based cruise missile on display with its launcher
A Russian military officer walks past the 9M729 land-based cruise missile on display with its launcher (right) in Kubinka outside Moscow, Russia on Jan 23, 2019. (Photo: AP/Pavel Golovkin)

WASHINGTON: The United States formally withdrew from a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia on Friday (Aug 2) after determining that Moscow was in violation of the treaty and had no plans to come into compliance with it.

US President Donald Trump made the determination that the United States would terminate adherence to the 1987 arms control accord, known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), senior administration officials told reporters.

READ: Russia says INF arms treaty dead 'at the initiative of the US'

READ: World will lose brake on nuclear war with end of INF treaty: UN chief

The treaty bans either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe. Washington signaled its intention six months ago to pull out of the agreement if Russia made no move to adhere to it.

“The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement about the US withdrawal.

"Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes US supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners,” Pompeo said. 

The senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia had deployed "multiple battalions" of a Russian cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the pact, including in western Russia, "with the ability to strike critical European targets."

Nuclear arms: the INF treaty ends
Map showing the range of nuclear weapons covered by the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, which US and Russia officially terminated Aug 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Sabrina Blanchard)

Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile’s range puts it outside the treaty, and has accused the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit a treaty Washington wants to leave anyway so it can develop new missiles. Russia has also rejected a US demand to destroy the new missile.

The missile, the Novator 9M729, is known as the SSC-8 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the US Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

The treaty bans land-based missiles with a range between 500km to 5,500 km.

MISSILE MORATORIUM

Russia said on Friday it had asked the United States to declare and enforce a moratorium on the deployment of short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as the INF arms treaty formally ended.

"We have proposed to the United States and other NATO countries that they weigh the possibility of declaring the same kind of moratorium on the deployment of short and intermediate range missiles as ours, like the one announced by Vladimir Putin," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.

"MEASURED" RESPONSE

NATO will avoid "a new arms race" with Russia and will not deploy new nuclear missiles on European soil, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on Friday.

"Russia bears sole responsibility for the demise of the treaty," NATO allies said.

"NATO will respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by the Russian 9M729 missile ... We have agreed a balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures.".

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference there would be "no rash moves" by the alliance and "would not mirror what Russia does."

"We don't want a new arms race," Stoltenberg said.

Washington is only considering conventional, not nuclear weapons, in any possible response, NATO diplomats say. Stoltenberg listed military exercises, surveillance and air and missile defenses as ways to deter Moscow.

NATO is also considering more flights over Europe by US warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training and the repositioning of US sea-based missiles, alliance diplomats say.

AGGRAVATING TENSIONS

The dispute is aggravating the worst US-Russia friction since the Cold War ended in 1991. Some experts believe the treaty’s collapse could undermine other arms control agreements and speed an erosion of the global system designed to block the spread of nuclear arms.

Trump has sought to improve US relations with Russia after a chill during the tenure of his predecessor, Barack Obama. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Wednesday about Siberian wildfires and trade.

Arms control did not come up in the call, the officials said.

The major US-Russia nuclear treaties
Graphic on major nuclear treaties between the US and Russia, as Washington and Moscow officially withdraw from the 1987 INF Treaty on Aug 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Kun TIAN)

European officials have voiced concern that if the treaty collapses, Europe could again become an arena for nuclear-armed, intermediate-range missile buildups by the United States and Russia.

The officials said the United States was months away from the first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Any such deployment would be years away, they said.

"We are just at the stage of looking at how we might further the development of conventional options," one official said.

Trump has said he would like to see a "next-generation" arms control deal with Russia and China to cover all types of nuclear weapons.

He has broached the topic individually with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, including at the G20 summit in Osaka in June.

China is not a party to nuclear arms pacts between the United States and Russia and it is unclear how willing Beijing would be to be drawn into talks.

China's Foreign Ministry has reiterated that the country had no interest in joining such talks.

Source: Reuters/ic

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