National Security Adviser John Bolton is heading to Moscow Monday to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials regarding Russia’s violation of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 (INF) forbids Russia and the US from having or using “ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.”
The treaty also required the destruction of thousands of missiles, missile launchers, and associated equipment.
The dispute dates back to 2014, when the Obama Administration accused Russia of violating the treaty. All subsequent attempts to pressure Russia into compliance have failed.
“Across two administrations, the United States and our allies have attempted to bring Russia back into full and verifiable compliance with INF,” said a White House official. “Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency.”
Washington has pointed to Russia’s “Novator” ground-based missile as proof that it is violating the treaty.
Russia argues that Washington’s use of drones violates the treaty, and has expressed concern that a US-backed missile defense system in Europe could easily be converted into a nuclear-armed offensive weapon.
President Trump last weekend responded to the dispute by threatening to pull the US out of the treaty:
“We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we’ve honored the agreement,” said Trump. “But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out.”
When asked to clarify his threat to withdraw from the INF, Trump told reporters:
“Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,’ but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable. So we have a tremendous amount of money to play with our military.”
Russia has warned that withdrawal from the INF “would be a very dangerous step.”
Trump’s threat could be a negotiating tactic (think NAFTA), but as Bolton has pointed out, withdrawal from the INF would free us up to develop the sort of missiles needed to stay on par with China.
Bolton is also opposed to the extension of the 2010 New Start agreement with Russia, which restricts the number deployed strategic warheads for both sides.
Editor’s note: Trump continues to take bold steps on issues important to America, where previous Presidents have just not had the guts. To stay with a treaty where the other side is in open violation is not to maintain “stability,” it’s to guarantee instability at some future time.