President Trump is under fire from his critics in the United States and abroad for pledging to “terminate” a nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia.
The president claimed that “Russia has violated the agreement,” adding: “We're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement, and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to. We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we've honored the agreement. But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement.”
The Kremlin's government-controlled news agency, RIA Novosti, responded by accusing Trump of making “scandalous statements.” The agency reported that Russian leader Vladimir Putin planned to raise the issue with national security adviser John Bolton when the U.S. official visited Moscow in late October. Bolton was among those who urged Trump to abandon the treaty.
Russian Sen. Alexey Pushkov tweeted that the “United States is bringing the world back to the Cold War.” He called Trump's decision a “massive blow to the entire system of strategic stability in the world.” Another Kremlin lawmaker, Konstantin Kosachev, wrote on his Facebook page that “the consequences would be truly catastrophic.”
Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association agreed, predicting that withdrawal from the treaty will prove to be “an epic mistake.”
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told the Guardian: “This is a colossal mistake. I doubt very much that the U.S. will deploy much that would have been prohibited by the treaty. Russia, though, will go gangbusters.”
Beatrice Fihn, who heads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, proclaimed that Trump “has shown himself to be a demolition man who has no ability to build real security.” She continued: “Instead, by blowing up nuclear treaties, he is taking the U.S. down a trillion dollar road to a new nuclear arms race.”
Independent journalist Glenn Greenwald cautioned that “this is a major and dangerous provocation toward Russia by Trump.”
CNN noted that former President Ronald Reagan and then-Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987. The pact called for each nation to get rid of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking targets as far as 3,400 miles away.
While the treaty “wasn't designed to solve all of our problems,” U.S. officials thought it would “provide a measure of some strategic stability” in Europe, according to Rear Adm. John Kirby, a CNN analyst and former State Department spokesman.
He added: “I suspect our European allies right now are none too happy about hearing that President Trump intends to pull out of it.” The analyst lamented that the United States, by pulling out of the treaty, is giving Putin “an excuse to just continue doing what he's doing, only doing it more blatantly.”
The current U.S. administration is not the first to accuse its adversary of breaking the terms of the treaty. In 2014, President Obama's team cited a CNN report in condemning Russia for continuing to possess cruise missiles that it built six years previously.
NATO officials eventuall confirmed the violation. “I don't know why President Obama didn't negotiate or pull out,” Trump said.
The Defense Department wrote in February that Russia “continues to violate a series of arms-control treaties and commitments.”
In early October, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared that the alliance was “concerned about Russia's lack of respect for its international commitments, including the INF.” He described the accord as “a crucial element of our security,” which was “in danger because of Russia's actions.”
Stoltenberg pointed out that “after years of denials, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of a new missile system, called 9M729.” The secretary general said that “Russia is either rejecting or avoiding its obligations and commitments under numerous agreements, and has rebuffed U.S. efforts to follow the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with another round of negotiated reductions and to pursue reductions in non-strategic nuclear forces.”
Trump, freed from the INF's restrictions, might call for an expansion of his country's nuclear arsenal. He argued that more weapons may be needed to deter China, as well as Russia.
The president told reporters that a new agreement involving all three countries is unlikely, “unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say, 'Let's really get smart and let's none of us develop those weapons.'” Trump said that “if Russia's doing it and if China's doing it and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable.”
Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that China's missile program would not comply with the INF treaty. “This fact is significant because the U.S. has no comparable capability due to our adherence to the (pact),” he testified.