The United States on Friday officially withdrew from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a decades-old arms pact with Russia credited with helping end the Cold War.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Moscow as “solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” noting that Russia has for years been in violation of the treaty by fielding a new ground-launched missile, the 9M729.
“The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia,” Pompeo said in a statement early Friday. “Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners.”
The INF Treaty, brokered in 1987, bars the U.S. and Russia from having nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that have ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
U.S. officials have publicly accused Russia of violating the treaty since 2014 — during the Obama administration. The Trump administration announced plans to withdraw from the bilateral pact in February, triggering a six-month withdrawal period, which ends Friday. The U.S. is now freed from its obligations under the treaty.
The Pentagon has said previously it plans to flight-test a non-nuclear cruise missile with a potential range of 1,000 kilometers this month.
A spokesman did not directly comment when asked for an update on the test status earlier this week but said that after the treaty ends “the United States will no longer be under the INF Treaty prohibitions on possession, production, and flight-testing of ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles."
NATO allies said in a statement Friday that the Trump administration’s decision is “fully supported” by the alliance, echoing Pompeo in blaming Russia for its demise.
“NATO will respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by the Russian 9M729 missile to Allied security,” the statement says. “We have agreed a balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures to ensure NATO's deterrence and defence posture remains credible and effective.”
The long-awaited announcement has raised questions about the future of U.S.-Russia arms control. Some critics have expressed concerns that the move, without a proper follow-on agreement, could spur an arms race.
The last remaining major arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia, the New START Treaty, is up for renewal in 2021. The Trump administration has signaled it wants to expand its scope to include other nations, like China, and a broader group of weapons.
Pompeo said Friday that the U.S. remains committed to effective arms control that advances U.S., allied, and partner security; is verifiable and enforceable; and includes partners that comply responsibly with their obligations.”
“President Trump has charged this Administration with beginning a new chapter by seeking a new era of arms control that moves beyond the bilateral treaties of the past. Going forward, the United States calls upon Russia and China to join us in this opportunity to deliver real security results to our nations and the entire world,” he said.