Parliamentary action to preserve the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Photo: Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev sign the INF Treaty in 1987

On October 20, 2018, U.S. President Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Legislators in the U.S and Europe are taking action to save the INF and prevent a new nuclear arms race.

On October 20, 2018, U.S. President Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), an historic agreement reached in 1987 between the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres, and to utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification of the agreement.

6 months notification is required for withdrawal from the treaty, so unless reversed, the U.S. decision to withdraw would take effect in late March 2019.

The unravelling of the INF Treaty could open the door to Russia and US developing and deploying new destabilising nuclear weapons, reducing the thresh-hold for nuclear-weapons-use and raising the risks of use by miscalculation or escalation in a conflict between them.

The U.S. decision follows a years-long U.S.-Russian dispute about whether the other side is violating the treaty.

The US alleges that Moscow has developed and deployed a prohibited missile, a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) having a range prohibited under the INF Treaty. The U.S. administration has also expressed concern that China, which is not a party to the INF Treaty, is gaining a military advantage in East Asia by deploying large numbers of treaty-noncompliant missiles.

Russia has denied violating the INF, and has responded with allegations that the US is in violation of the INF Treaty by deploying launching systems capable of firing cruise missiles. In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the U.S. plan to withdraw from the treaty could lead to a new arms race and that any nation that hosts U.S. intermediate-range missiles will “put their own territory under the threat of a possible counterstrike.”

For further background see Trump to Withdraw U.S. From INF Treaty, Arms Control Association, November 2018).

US Congress and the INF Treaty

President Trump’s decision on the INF Treaty is proving controversial in the U.S. Congress.  Leading Democrats are concerned that President Trump’s decision was taken in order that the U.S. Administration could then develop new nuclear weapons systems currently prohibited under the INF, and that it would remove constraints on Russian nuclear weapons development and deployment.

Senator Markey speaking at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

“President Trump’s reckless decision to pull the U.S. out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty alienates us from our allies and risks returning us to the Cold War postures of yesterday,” said Senator Merkley. “A new nuclear arms race would be costly to our treasury and dangerous for the world. Congress must not fund new ground-launched or ballistic missiles that will fuel a dangerous arms race across the globe.

PNND Co-President Senator Markey, a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has joined with Senators Merkley, Warren, Gillibrand, Wyden, Feinstein and Sanders (Independent) in submitting S.3667 the Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2018, calling on the U.S. Administration to remain in the INF.

 “The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly ratified this seminal arms control agreement, which has strong bipartisan support," said Senator Markey. "The Trump administration has another thing coming if it thinks it can simply withdraw from this landmark treaty without a fight in Congress. Pulling out of the INF Treaty plays squarely into Russia’s hands while undermining America’s security and betraying our NATO allies.”

Without question, Russia is violating the INF Treaty," added Senator Markey. "American withdrawal will not increase our negotiating leverage, it only falls hook, line, and sinker for Putin’s predictable attempts to goad the United States into justifying Russian noncompliance. The Trump administration’s naïveté is surpassed only by its recklessness. It should instead work more closely with our NATO allies to force Russia back into compliance.”

S.3667 calls on the Administration to refrain from INF withdrawal, and instead seek additional meetings of the Special Verification Commission (established in the INF) to resolve the concerns related to the Russian Federation's violation of the Treaty and to reach agreement on measures to ensure the Treaty’s future viability.

In addition S.3667 would maintain constraints on the U.S. producing shorter- or intermediate-range ground launched ballistic or cruise missile system even if the INF treaty is terminated.

The Trump decision has also been opposed by leading members of the House of Representatives, including Rep Adam Smith who is set to become the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee in the new congress and Rep Eliot Engel who is set to become the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

According to Rep Smith, “The Trump administration is unilaterally taking action on the INF Treaty without meaningful consultation and coordination with our NATO allies. Setting us on a precipitous course toward withdrawal from this treaty undermines the NATO alliance and transatlantic security, while playing directly into President Putin’s plans to divide us. It is no secret that some of President Trump’s advisers are more focused on promoting U.S. withdrawal from its international commitments than prioritizing the collective security of America and its partners and allies.”

Some European voices

On October 23, some PNND members in the UK House of Commons - Caroline Lucas (Green), Peter Bottomley (Conservative) and Kelvin Hopkins (Independent) - joined with Lloyd Russel-Moyle (Labour) in co-sponsoring Early-Day Motion (EDM) 1744 entitled US Withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which calls on the UK Government 'to use its influence on Washington to urge the US to deal with any concerns it may have over treaty compliance through diplomatic means and to uphold its commitments to the treaty.' A total of 41 members of parliament have endorsed the EDM.

Then 0n October 25, PNND member Fabian Hamilton MP (UK) raised the issue of U.S. withdrawal from the INF in the UK House of Commons, asking for the UK government’s position.

Mark Field, UK Minister for Asia and the Pacific, responded that the UK supported the INF, but that Russia was clearly in violation of the treaty, and that ‘the situation in which only one side—the United States—adheres to the treaty and Russia remains in non-compliance is not sustainable, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree.’

Federica Mogherini, EU HIgh Rep for Foreign Affairs and Security, meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, to discuss INF and other critical issues.

Mr Fabian replied that ‘Leaving the INF is a dangerous unravelling of part of the architecture of trust and understanding that has prevented nuclear conflict’, and asked ‘Has the UK Government consulted the United States on the implications that an arms race might have for European and United Kingdom security?

On October 23, Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (and a former PNND Council Member), warned the Trump Administration that INF withdrawal could trigger another nuclear arms race.

According to Mogherini, “The INF contributed to the end of the cold war and constitutes a pillar of European security architecture since it entered into force 30 years ago. Thanks to the INF treaty, almost 3,000 missiles with nuclear and conventional warheads have been removed and verifiably destroyed. The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”

Mogherini has also expressed concerns to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov regarding the allegations about Russian non-compliance with the INF and the need to resolve this issue.

In Germany, there is strong cross-party support for the INF Treaty. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SDP) has expressed concern over the U.S. decision and has vowed to personally attempt to save the INF agreement.

"INF must be preserved," said Roderich Kiesewetter, a PNND Council Member and the representative of the ruling CDU/CSU bloc joint faction in the German parliament's foreign affairs committee. Agnieszka Brugger, the Greens foreign policy spokesperson and also a PNND Council Member described U.S. withdrawal from the INF as "risky nonsense" and a "dangerous, dumb decision".