The end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, held his yearly ‘State of the Union’ to the Russian federal assembly on Wednesday 20 February 2019. In his speech he addressed the recent tensions between the United States and Russia, following the suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF-treaty) dating from 1987. Putin said that Russia will not hesitate to deploy new nuclear weapons targeting the United States if the United States deploy such weapons in Europe. Russia has no intentions of deploying these weapons first, but feels forced to do so if the United States continue to place weapons in Europe, namely in Romania and Poland.

These remarks are a new reaction in the continuing degradation of agreements on arms control in general and more specifically the INF-treaty. In 2002 the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was suspended by Russia in 2007.

The INF treaty prohibited the Soviet Union and the United States from flight­testing, producing and deploying ballistic  missiles  and  cruise missiles with a range of 500­-5,500 km, launched from the ground. The INF-treaty was applicable to nuclear as well as conventional missiles. Furthermore in accordance with the treaty, a total of 2,692 missiles had been destroyed and mutual inspections had been concluded. The treaty has lifted tension in Europe over the arms race between the two countries.

United States president Donald Trump suspended the INF-treaty on 1 February 2019. According to the United States, Russia failed to comply with the treaty for it’s 92M79 missile violates the terms of the treaty because the missile supposedly has a range of over 500 km. An accusation that Russia strongly denies. Russia on the other hand accuses the United States of a treaty breach by placing  missile defense launchers in Romania.  The defense missiles could also pose an offensive threat because “target missiles” developed for defense shield exercises,  were in fact intermediate-range missiles in disguise.

A criticism of the INF-treaty, that has increased over the last twenty years, is that other, neighboring countries of Russia and the United States, have not signed the treaty and have no restrictions on deployment of intermediate range missiles. Russia and the United States both limit their strategic options while countries like China, have no such limiting treaty obligation. Apart from deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States, the increasing global disbalance, might be a cause for the decreasing willingness to adhere to arms control treaties.

The suspension of the INF-treaty might just be one step in a newly revived arms race. In his speech, president Putin announced the development of a hypersonic missile, Tsirkon with a range of 1,000km, able to strike land targets. Initially to be launched from water, but according to analysts, it is possible that in the future this missile could be launched from land as well. Furthermore president Putin declared that: “the Russian Navy will receive seven new multipurpose submarines, and construction will begin on five surface vessels designed for the open ocean. Sixteen more vessels of this class will enter service in the Russian Navy by 2027.”

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