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The United States Should Seek Compliance with the INF Treaty,
Not Withdraw from It

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, August 2014


In its 2014 Compliance Report1, the U.S. State Department announced that the Russian Federation is “in violation of its obligations under the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or] INF Treaty2 not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched crude missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” The U.S. has called for immediate talks on the reported violation and for prompt steps by Russia to cure the noncompliance. Some critics, however, have already called for the U.S. to withdraw from the Treaty, and possibly to impose additional sanctions. This would be a serious mistake.

There is no immediate crisis which should preclude efforts to bring Russia back into compliance: the technical violation does not affect the strategic balance between the U.S. and Russia, the U.S. has no need to deploy intermediate range nuclear missiles, and our European allies are safer with the INF Treaty in force than without it. By invoking the compliance mechanisms of the Treaty, the U.S. is following the right course.

It is also consistent with the course of action successfully pursued by the Reagan Administration in response to an earlier violation by the then Soviet Union of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In 1985 the U.S. determined that the terms of that treaty were violated by the capabilities of the Soviet radar installation at Krasnoyarsk. However, instead of withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, Reagan mounted a campaign of pressure on Moscow to cure the violation; the campaign ultimately resulted in elimination of the offending radar station, while the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations concluded further U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreements with robust verification provisions.3

In pursuing the consultation and compliance provisions on the INF Treaty, the U.S. should also reiterate its willingness to examine and discuss Russian allegations4 of U.S.  violations of the Treaty concerning missile defense testing and armed drones. If these allegations are unfounded, as the U.S. government clearly believes them to be, it can only be helpful to have the issue resolved.

The U.S. should also consider alternative approaches to addressing Russian concerns about the effects of the INF Treaty. Many in Russian government and military circles have been concerned for years about the development of intermediate range nuclear missiles by states on Russia’s borders such as China, India and Pakistan. In 2007 Presidents Putin and George W. Bush approved a joint statement5 which, while noting that “the Russian Federation and the United States take this occasion to reaffirm our joint support of the INF Treaty,” also recognized concerns that “an ever-greater number of countries are acquiring missile production technologies and adding such missiles to their arsenals,” while the INF Treaty “is limiting the actions of only a few states, primarily Russia and the United States.”  The joint statement accordingly “call[s] on all interested countries to discuss the possibility of imparting a global character to this important regime.” At the time this proposal was not pursued; under present circumstances, perhaps it should be.

At a time of increasing tension, when channels of U.S.-Russian communication and crisis management are already inadequate and in danger of being further reduced,6 it is especially important to make use of the mechanisms for dispute resolution provided by the INF Treaty, not sever them by a unilateral withdrawal. A possible violation of the INF Treaty is a serious matter, calling for a serious response, but no U.S. interest would be served by gratuitously expanding and exacerbating areas of existing U.S.-Russian conflict.

2.) Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics On the Elimination of Their Intermediate- Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/trty/102360.htm   

3.) "When Russia Violates Nuclear Treaties, Let’s Act Like Reagan,, by Joe Cirincione and Lauren Mladenka, http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/07/when-russia-violates-nuclear-treaties-lets-act-reagan/90029/?oref=d-river 
-”Russian Cheating Is Not New- Neither Is Compelling Them back Into Treaty Compliance," by Jon Wolfsthal, http://www.nonproliferation.org/russian-cheating-treaty-compliance/  













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