Both US and Russia have been invoking the arms treaty that played a key role to end the Cold War by banning nuclear missile deployments in Europe. Here’s what’s at the heart of the controversy.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan signed the INF treaty on December 8, 1987
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan signed the INF treaty on December 8, 1987 (Reuters Archive)

New wave of tension has flared up between the US and Russia as Moscow threatened Washington with an “effective response” if any short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles were deployed in Europe. 

  • Why is it important?

In 1987, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) banned the testing, production and possession of medium-range missiles after concerns about Soviet Union’s deployment of new missiles in Europe. The United States and Soviet Union dismantled and destroyed about 800 and 1,800 missiles  within three years after the agreement was put into force, as it also required destruction of the Parties' ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles between the range of 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The pact effectively brought an end to the Cold War and continues to remain as the only Cold War-era agreement that is in force today. The NATO nations regard it as key to arms control.

  • Is the US pulling out of the agreement?

Both the US and Russia have been long accusing each other of violating the arms control pact. 

For the US, Russia deployed a land-based missile system first in 2008, which could strike Europe in short time. 

The Obama Administration raised concerns about the Russian compliance with the deal. The US State Department said in 2014 that Moscow breached its obligations of the deal, and three years later identified systems as the Russian military calls 9M729 or SSC-8. Finally on October 2018, the US President Donald Trump said the US intends to withdraw from the deal in response to years of alleged Russian violations, and also expand its military arsenal. 

His comments came after the US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison’s warning to Russia to halt the development of a new cruise missile -- a claim Moscow denies. 

Russia, on the other hand, accuses the US of breaking the accord with missile deployments in Poland and Romania, says it could be used for an offensive cruise missile. 

  • Why withdrawal from the deal raises concerns?

The US has estimated nuclear stockpile of 4,000 including 1,800 deployed on weapons system and Russia has an estimated stockpile of 4,350 with 1,600 deployed on weapons system. The biggest concern about the deal’s withdrawal is that stockpiles of both Moscow and Washington could increase. 

Finally, it could trigger a nuclear arms race between the two nations. Without the treaty the US could deploy immune nuclear weapons in Europe. To which, Russia says it would have to mount an “effective response” -- which could lead to a military confrontation.  

Another concern over the deal’s withdrawal stems from the risk of not prioritising the importance of political processes for conflict resolution, and put other arms treaties such as the New Start Treaty, which is up for renewal in 2020, at risk. 

The US and Russia’s relation have been tense over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support to separatism in eastern Ukraine. Now the missile deployment in Europe could put more strain on the relations. 

The UK's defence secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain supports the US in giving a clear message to Russia, that it needs  to respect the treaty. He said Russia should “get its house in order," according to the Financial Times.

German Foreign Ministry also pointed that Russia hasn’t cleared up allegations of violating the treaty but also said that the US decision is “regrettable” and "raises difficult questions for us and Europe"

Source: TRT World