Bye bye NATO? What next after US exits key nuclear treaty with Russia

By Prarthana Mitra

In a significant blow to international relations and security in the foreseeable future, the US said it would withdraw from a Cold War-era nuclear treaty with Russia.

About the treaty

The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is a longstanding agreement prohibiting both nations from the building, testing and possession of short and medium-range ground-launched nuclear missiles, and is considered instrumental in ending the arms race between the two power blocs.

Signed in 1987, the INF treaty is believed to have played a major role in protecting America’s NATO allies in Europe from Soviet missile attacks and maintaining strategic stability for over three decades.

Pulling out of it seems to be US President Donald Trump’s way of making good on his announcement to quit NATO, after a year of several such diplomatic defections. Defense Secretary James Mattis gave NATO diplomats an ultimatum earlier this month, to withdraw from INF if Russia did not rescind its Novator missiles.

The bone of contention

Alleging that Russia is developing and planning to deploy the Novator 9M729 missile, despite a vehement denial from Kremlin, the US has accused Putin’s government of violating the treaty since 2008, without conclusively resolving the issue. Russia, in turn, raised counter-allegations against the US for installing missile defence systems in Europe.

“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years… so we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” Trump added.

Here’s what will happen next

US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, is expected to break the news to Kremlin over his upcoming trip to Moscow on a visit. He is believed to have been a crucial factor in convincing Trump to withdraw, according to The New York Times.

The Russian government on Sunday said it is also against the move. “If the Americans continue to act as crudely and bluntly… and unilaterally withdraw from all sorts of agreement and mechanisms from the Iran deal to the International Postal treaty, then we’ll be reduced to taking action in response, including of a military nature. But we don’t want to go that far,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told international media.

In the absence of a diplomatic resolution, the US continues to be under pressure from other European nations to abide by the terms of INF. EU members have called Trump’s decision “regrettable” and “dangerous” but affirmed they would remain “absolutely resolute” in standing by the US in its position against Russia. The primary concern at this juncture is that in the absence of INF, the arms race between the US and Russia could make a comeback, at a time when nuclear armament and decnuclearisation is already a sensitive topic as far as Trump’s allies are concerned.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius