Donald Trump to Kill Arms Treaty That Russia Never Liked, Experts Say

President Donald Trump plans to kill an arms treaty that Russia never liked anyway, experts said Monday, after the U.S. administration signaled over the weekend that it would unilaterally abandon the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

“The problem we now confront is the way the Trump administration has handled this. It's god-awful,” Ambassador Richard Burt, one of the chief negotiators in arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union, told reporters on a call organized by the Atlantic Council Monday. “You have to hand it to the Russians for their deft handling of this. The U.S. pulled out of a treaty the Russians never liked.”

Trump announced on Saturday that he planned to pull out of the treaty, which was negotiated in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. The treaty had eliminated all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of around 300 and 3,500 miles.

"Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years," Trump told reporters as he was boarding Air Force One on Saturday. "We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we've honored the agreement. Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement."

Many experts agreed that Russia was violating the INF Treaty, which was highly unpopular among Russian military officials. But the decision to pull out unilaterally, instead of working to pressure Moscow to comply with the agreement, created the impression that the U.S. was to blame for the treaty's failure, experts said. What's more, the decision was likely driven by politics as opposed to security concerns.

“The Russians haven't just broken the INF Treaty, they've stomped all over it for nearly a decade. [But] I'm greatly disappointed the president made this decision and announced it the way he did. You have to believe this was more about this being the other guy's treaty, someone's else's treaty, and not his,” said Ellen Tauscher, former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under the Obama administration. “I think John Bolton was behind this…This is part of John Bolton's plan, who never met a treaty that he liked.”

886871782-594x594
Former President Ronald Reagan (left) with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (right) during welcoming ceremonies at the White House on the first day of their disarmament summit, December 1987. After a three-day summit in Washington, both leaders signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in a first attempt to reverse the nuclear arms race. Jerome Delay/AFP/Getty Images

Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, has long advocated for the U.S. to withdraw from the treaty because it allows China and Iran to stockpile missiles while Washington remains constrained. He is traveling to Moscow this week, where he is expected to discuss the treaty's future with Russian officials. The official process for terminating the treaty will take at least six months to complete.

Once the treaty has officially been terminated, however, experts say Moscow will be free to use its 9M729 cruise missile—which the U.S. has said violates the INF Treaty—with little constraint. Some analysts were concerned that the INF's demise would lead to a renewed arms race.

"By declaring he will leave the INF Treaty, President Trump has shown himself to be a demolition man who has no ability to build real security. Instead, by blowing up nuclear treaties he is taking the U.S. down a trillion-dollar road to a new nuclear arms race,” Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement.

Moscow had accused the U.S. of violating the INF Treaty, pointing to missile defense systems Washington sold to countries that have the ability to launch missiles, such as Romania and Japan.