Will the death of the INF herald another US-Russia arms race?

Will the death of the INF herald another US-Russia arms race?

By Luke Vargas   
Published
The blast door to the Launch Control Center of the U.S. Delta 1 nuclear missiles at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. Courtesy: Department of Defense archives
The blast door to the Launch Control Center of the U.S. Delta 1 nuclear missiles at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. Courtesy: Department of Defense archives

President Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from a key 1980's arms control agreement without a viable replacement deal in sight.

UNITED NATIONS  President Trump announced over the weekend that the U.S. plans to “terminate” the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia, a 1987 deal that banned either country from owning missiles with ranges between 300 miles and 3,400 miles.

That deal kept Cold War rivals far enough apart so that ground-based missiles deployed in Europe wouldn’t trigger armed conflict.

Both sides destroyed thousands of such missiles, while still keeping sea- or air-launched missiles that Washington and Moscow thought key to nuclear deterrence.

Russia and the U.S. now accuse the other of violating the deal  Russia for developing and deploying new intermediate-range missiles, and the U.S. for deploying land-based missile systems to Poland and Romania.

Matthew Bunn, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and an arms control adviser to President Clinton, said the INF has been in peril lately, but that shredding the deal is a mistake.

“What this does is it frees Russia to build as many of its prohibited missiles as it feels like, while putting all the blame on the United States, rather than Russia, which is not a good idea for U.S. interests.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton reportedly thinks an INF replacement should constrain not just the U.S. and Russia, but North Korea, Iran and China, too  something Bunn thinks is a non-starter for Beijing.

“Most of their missile force is precisely in the ranges prohibited by the INF treaty, so why would they sign up to a treaty that would force them to dismantle most of the missiles that they have built over the last few decades?”

Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and arms control negotiator under President George H.W. Bush, fears the lack of a viable replacement deal means an arms race is in the cards.

“This unfortunately, in my view – the INF decision – has us sleepwalking into a new nuclear arms race, where both Russia and the United States are now spending over a trillion dollars on a new generation of intercontinental-range systems. This is going to have consequences for us and our allies that we haven’t thought through.”

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