Trump's Nuclear Treaty Withdrawal Weakened the West and Unleashed Russia | Opinion

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

In his State of the Union speech, President Trump flaunted US withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a precious legacy for peace and security from Ronald Reagan. Last week in his "state of the nation" speech Russian president Vladimir Putin shot back by threatening to target the US with new nuclear weapons, and accusing US leaders of being dangerously out of touch with reality. But, he asked rhetorically, "They can count, can't they?"

Can they? From 1988 when the INF entered into force, to its full implementation in 1991, over 850 US and over 1,700 Soviet mid-range missiles were destroyed. Mid-range arsenals capable of rapidly devastating Europe were retired. Now the US is withdrawing, limitations on such deployments are ending, and those destabilizing arsenals can return.

This seriously diminishes US security and leaves Russia free to threaten our NATO allies and create discord where there once had been unity. The follow-on consequences are all too apparent:

1. Russia is already threatening to expand its nuclear missile capacity to strike the US homeland rapidly with devastating force.

2. US missile defense systems in Europe, which Russia claims can be offensive systems that violate the INF Treaty, can now be targeted with fast-striking mid-range missiles.

3. Russia will be free to deploy medium-range nuclear weapons anywhere within the many nations not covered by nuclear weapons free zone treaties, including Syria.

4. If the US tries to respond by deploying additional nuclear weapon missile systems in allies' territories, it will spark domestic protest in those countries. It is not even clear they will want or accept any additional US nuclear weapons.

5. US withdrawal from the INF Treaty has put unity and confidence in the Atlantic alliance in doubt, with important NATO allies expressing consternation over US actions.

6. The likelihood of a new, destabilizing nuclear arms race has dramatically increased.

7. Trust in and reliance on US respect for treaties and the rule of law has diminished around the world.

8. The manner of US withdrawal from INF dramatically lowers the standard for withdrawing from other treaties.

The Trump administration has triggered the six-month time clock for termination under the Treaty, which states: "Each Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests."

Since the mid-2000s Russia complained about the Treaty limiting its ability to counter the Chinese military buildup, including intermediate-range missiles. Russia implied this impaired its security interests, though it never invoked "extraordinary events" or claimed the INF jeopardized its "supreme interests" as a pretext for withdrawing.

Trump said nothing in the State of the Union about "extraordinary events" or "supreme interests" to justify US withdrawal. He only said the US would withdraw because Russia has been violating the Treaty while the US has not.

Arguably the US has now lowered the bar for treaty withdrawal from "supreme interest" to unilaterally asserting some technical violation of a non-core treaty provision. It is untenable for the US to stand on such an assertion, especially after it withdrew from the the UN Security Council-endorsed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, despite assurances from the CIA, IAEA inspectors, and all our European allies that Iran is upholding its obligations under the agreement.

We should take stock of what we're losing. Cancelling the INF Treaty reverses diplomatic and arms control successes of the last 30 years in favor of rising fear and more armaments. The INF kicked off an arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament process that led to further measures, ultimately reducing world nuclear arsenals from over 65,000 to less than 15,000 today.

The process started because the US and its allies wanted to end the acute threat posed by the Soviet SS-20s -- a modern, highly accurate, road-mobile, medium-range ballistic missile armed with three MIRVed warheads. There were over 400 of them at 48 bases, totaling over 1200 warheads with a range of 5000 kilometers capable of destroying Europe in a matter of minutes.

In 1979 NATO took on what came to be known as the Dual Track decision: unless an arms control alternatives could be found by 1983, NATO would begin the deployment of 571 medium range missile systems to offset the SS-20s – a dangerous standoff.

INF negotiations began in 1981 and took many years. The breakthrough came at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev, where the US and Russia agreed to onsite inspections. The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 and ratified in 1988. It completely eliminated the entire class of nuclear weapons capable of ranges between 500 and 5500 kilometers.

This led directly to the end of the Cold War and the Conventional Armed Forces In Europe (CFE) Treaty in 1991. Because of the INF, the world became a safer, more peaceable place.

All went well with the INF until 2014, when concerns were raised Russia might have tested a new cruise missile system beyond the Treaty's lower range limitation of 500 kilometers. That limitation was not central to the INF, since it was designed to address the SS-20 mid-range ballistic missile threat to Europe.

The Obama and Trump administrations tried several times to resolve the issue, until President Trump cited it as a pretext to announce US withdrawal. Suddenly, Cold War nuclear threats the INF defused are coming back. Without identifying any benefit to the US, the Trump administration has stimulated an irrational, dangerous new arms race and diminished US and world security.

Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr. is a former senior US diplomat who was involved in negotiating every international arms control and non-proliferation agreement from 1970 to 1997, including the INF. He served at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for three decades, including as Acting Director, and was the US special representative for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament.

Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute, and United Nations Representative and Senior Advisor of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates. He chairs the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association, and is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

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