Withdrawing from international treaties is not a security strategy, but a dangerous path

In a new statement on the INF Treaty, NATO foreign ministers collectively declared for the first time “that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty. The ministers also stated: “It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty.”

Susi Snyder, PAX Programme leader nuclear disarmament said “Nuclear weapons are banned and violate international human rights and humanitarian law. Nations breaking treaties and seeking to develop more nuclear weapons are endangering us all with their commitment to security based on weapons of mass destruction.”

The NATO ministers statement went on to say “Allies are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Therefore, we will continue to uphold, support, and further strengthen arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security, taking into account the prevailing security environment.”

Multilateral diplomacy
If they are serious in preserving international arms control than European leaders, and especially NATO allies, must make it clear that withdrawing from the INF is a red line they will not cross. Instead of supporting the Trump administration on withdrawal from the INF Treaty, NATO allies must focus on multilateral diplomacy and look for ways to work collectively on real strategies for security. For example, they should be working toward removing all nuclear weapons from European soil and joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The INF rescued Europe from one of the most dangerous escalations of the Cold War and set the US and Soviet Union on a path to remove thousands of nuclear weapons. Pulling out of the INF will move the world in reverse and endanger all Europeans. Once a withdrawal notification is issued, Article XV of the treaty requires the United States to wait six months before it can leave the agreement. US Secretary of State Pompeo said the administration will issue a withdrawal notice in 60 days.

Russia has denied its new missile violates the INF but, after years of denying its existence, it has been vague on its capabilities. While the US announcement to suspend its engagement in the INF Treaty is mildly better than complete withdrawal, current plans demonstrate that the US is intent on developing a new class of missiles that would violate the INF restrictions.

On Nov. 26, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said that Russia is “open to any mutually beneficial proposals that take into account the interests and concerns of both parties.” NATO leadership, including Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, should seize this opportunity without delay. To facilitate confidence building, NATO member state leaders should pledge not to host intermediate-range missile systems.

Political legitimacy nuclear weapons continues the cyclical arms race
The announcement offers time for nations to move forward productively, though not very much of it. There are a number of options for action, including negotiating a solution that addresses U.S. and NATO concerns about Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missile and addresses Russian concerns about, U.S. Mk-41 Aegis Ashore missile-interceptor launchers in Romania (and by 2020 in Poland) that could be used for offensive missiles.

Much of these tensions are underpinned by the continued legitimacy given to nuclear weapons in the arsenals and security strategies and doctrines of a few states. The majority of the world has eschewed this option, including through the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. As long as nuclear weapons are provided political legitimacy, these cyclical arms races will continue.


Short background on the INF Treaty
The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was negotiated by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The INF required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.