President Trump announced this week the United States would be withdrawing from the historic Cold War era arms control agreement known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). His reason was that the Russians have been cheating – this is not news, it happened under the previous administration starting in 2009 and was admitted by our intelligence agencies in 2014.
The INF Treaty was the first of its kind – not a treaty to limit testing or to limit how many nuclear weapons could be added to our inventory, but an actual reduction and elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons. It was an historic achievement, unprecedented in the modern era and one that would cement the historic greatness of President Reagan and help consign the Soviet Union to the “…ash-heap of history.”
Why would President Trump withdraw the United States from such an important treaty between our country and Russia?
It is actually rather easy to understand.
First some INF Treaty history.
Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated the treaty in response to the Soviet Union’s buildup of SS20 missiles in Eastern Europe. The United States responded in kind with the deployment of Pershing II missiles to West Germany. Some have forgotten, and younger people have not been taught, the deep anger and resentment towards the United States by Western Europeans who did not want additional US nukes in Europe. Riots and protests were held for weeks throughout Europe, and millions participated. Given the polarized politics of our today, we are quick to forget Reagan’s arms buildup and the global fear of a US-Soviet nuclear exchange back in the early 1980s caused widespread political conflict with our NATO and European allies.
Reagan correctly believed in 1980, when he was elected, that the Soviet system could not keep up with American freedom, democracy, and capitalism, and he was right. Facing terminal bankruptcy, the Soviets cut deals to help reduce their own growing budget deficits. Unlike previous treaties such as SALT I and SALT II, which simply capped the growth rate of nuclear weapons, the INF Treaty required both sides to eliminate the entire class of intermediate range weapons and remove their deployment from Europe.
So why has Trump opted out? Today, in the 21st Century, this is a no-brainer.
The Top 3 Reasons Trump had to Withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty:
- “The treaty never applied to anyone else … specifically China”: The treaty was not a global ban on the intermediate range nuclear missile, it was simply a ban on the Soviet Union and the United States possessing the weapon. In 1987, we were the only two countries who possessed the weapon, and the only two – at the time – who could build such a weapon for the foreseeable future. That is no longer the case. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford recently testified before Congress that China now has “…significant capability in the realm of short range and intermediate range missile technology … they have deployed more than 2000 weapons in the field that we can verify, and enjoy a global superiority in the numbers of such weapons.” A treaty which does not allow America to have a weapon that potential enemies do have is not a treaty worth keeping.
- “The treaty is obsolete for the modern era”: Anti-access/Aerial denial … drone swarms … AI guided cruise missiles … EMP pulse … malware … an intermediate range nuclear missile is an important in-theater weapon for a global exchange between global superpowers. But it presupposes the nature of warfare will remain the purview of destroying the planet in a mutually assured destructive fight. It is unlikely that the Russians – atheist under communism, and nominally orthodox Christian under Putin – want to blow up Western Europe and have nothing but radiation and flattened earth to conquer. They benefit much more from a thriving political economy in Europe which they can buy from, or they can steal, the modern technological advances of the Western world. While important to have if they have, they are not a risk to the continental US … only the Europeans. Who ironically, don’t want them.
- “The Russians are cheating, pure and simple”: The signing of the INF Treaty in 1987 included one of the great lines from the Great Communicator himself: “Trust, but verify.” The strict verification standards eroded over time as most of the weapons were dismantled. At some point in 2009, the US became aware of multiple INF missiles being manufactured and deployed by the Russians in violation of the treaty (In this case the 9M729 Ground Launched cruise missile, which replaced the 1980’s era SS20’s). This was then admitted publicly by the Obama Administration and not denied by the Russians. They simply say that we were in breach first. The blatant cheating continues, and combined with Chinese missiles, both countries have technological and numerical superiority over US forces in NATO and in the Pacific.
There is nothing wrong with admitting that the time of a particular agreement has expired, that the other party is violating the terms of the agreement, and then terminating the agreement. This is the current circumstance we find ourselves in, and it is the right move for now.
It would be great if international relations could be reduced to the simpleton answers of the peace movement, or the ideological beliefs of the left. But sober minded leadership charged with protecting Americans knows better. The INF Treaty was an historic moment for peace on Earth, it helped bring an end to the Cold War, and was the signature achievement of President Ronald Reagan. But with Russians cheating, it is also a treaty we can no longer keep.
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