What Is the INF Treaty and Why Is the U.S. Withdrawing From Nuclear Arms Pact With Russia?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday that the United States would withdraw in 180 days from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

The U.S. has accused Russia of violating the rules of the treaty, but its suspension has raised concerns about a potential arms race.

While Pompeo said the U.S. was suspending compliance with the agreement, effective February 2, he noted that the U.S. would continue to negotiate with the Russians, but only if they were serious about following the rules laid out in the treaty.

"The security of the American people must be our greatest consideration. The agreements in which we enter must serve American interests. The countries must be held accountable when they break the rules," Pompeo told reporters. "We have raised Russia's noncompliance with Russian officials, including at the highest levels of government more than 30 times, yet Russia continues to deny that its missile system is noncompliant and violates the treaty. Russia's violation puts millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk. It aims to put the United States at a military disadvantage.

"It does no good to sign an agreement if the party isn't going to comply with it," Pompeo added.

The INF Treaty was signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in 1987, when relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had finally begun to thaw.

The treaty bans all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of about 300 to 3,500 miles. But U.S. and NATO officials have for years argued that Russia was in violation of the treaty.

"Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years," President Donald Trump told reporters in October when he first announced U.S. intentions to abandon the treaty if Russia did not come back into compliance. "We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we've honored the agreement. Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement."

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that Russia is being given a "final chance" to save the treaty.

"If they are really interested in preserving the treaty, this is their final chance. If there is an arms race, it's Russia that is starting it," the official said. "China, and Iran for that matter, are not bound by the treaty and each of these countries has over 1,000 of these missiles. The U.S. cannot be the only one bound by this treaty."

The official noted that it will take the U.S. some time to decide what additional missile capabilities will be deployed once the treaty is no longer in force, and said that the U.S. is only looking at conventional as opposed to nuclear options.

Experts pointed out at the time that many Russian military officials disliked the agreement because it put curbs on the type of weapons they could use.

One Russian ground-launched cruise missile in particular appears to have become the biggest point of contention between Russia and the U.S. in recent weeks. On January 23, in what some interpreted as a gesture of defiance, Russia's military unveiled a new 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, or SSC9, as NATO calls it, which the U.S. has said violates the INF treaty.

Despite this, some officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization argued that they would like to preserve the treaty to avoid an arms race.

"We do what we can to preserve the INF treaty. This treaty has banned a whole category of weapons, intermediate-range weapons. Russia is in violation of that treaty. They have developed a new category of weapons that are mobile and hard to detect, and have a short warning time, so they are reducing the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on the sidelines of the the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.