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Trump pulls US out of Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, triggering arms race fears

Move will ‘unleash new missile competition’ between the two nuclear superpowers, experts say

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 01 February 2019 17:25 GMT
Trump administration pulls out of Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty with Russia

The Trump administration has announced it is pulling out of a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, triggering fears of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow.

In a statement, Donald Trump said America would suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty from Saturday, citing alleged Russian violations of the 32-year-long agreement.

At the same time, the US would begin the six-month process of withdrawing from the treaty completely, “unless Russia comes back into compliance” by destroying all its violating missiles and launchers, Mr Trump said.

The treaty, a centrepiece of nuclear arms control, banned both countries from possessing or test-firing ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 300 and 3,100 miles.

The withdrawal has been expected for months, and follows years of unresolved dispute over Russian compliance with the 1987 pact.

The US has repeatedly accused Russia of breaking the pact by developing a cruise missile, known as 9M729, which has a reported range of 300 to 3,400 miles. The Kremlin denies any violations.

Mr Trump said Russia had “for too long” violated the treaty “with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad”.

US officials have also expressed concern that China, which is not part of the agreement, is deploying large numbers of missiles in Asia that the US cannot counter because it is bound by the treaty.

Nato said in a statement its allies “fully support” the US decision, while UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson has previously said he supports such a move, accusing Russia of “making a mockery” of the agreement.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, said on Twitter Russia must return to compliance of the treaty “or bear sole responsibility for its demise”.

The move has sparked criticism in other quarters, however, with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev – who signed the treaty with US president Ronald Reagan – describing it as “not the work of a great mind”.

Dr Patricia Lewis, an international security expert at think tank Chatham House, said the importance of INF treaty went beyond Russia and the US.

“Any use of nuclear weapons that resulted from a conflict between them would have disastrous impacts for the whole planet. Every country, every person, has skin in this game,” she said.

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“Most countries have joined the international treaties that restrict behaviour regarding nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Unfortunately, president Donald Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, is renowned for his disdain of arms control treaties.

“But the rule of law in the international arena needs to be supported and upheld by all – and to calm an increasingly troubled world.”

Nuclear weapons experts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said ahead of the announcement that a US withdrawal would be counterproductive.

“Leaving the INF treaty will unleash a new missile competition between the United States and Russia,” they said in a statement.

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