WASHINGTON – The United States officially withdrew on Friday from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty it signed with Russia during the Cold War and invited China to be a part of a new arms control pact, which may include other countries with powerful military forces.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the US’ official withdrawal from the treaty, six months after he said that Russia had violated the terms of the pact by failing to destroy the SSC-8 or 9M729 ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile.
“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” Pompeo said.
“Over the past six months, the United States provided Russia a final opportunity to correct its noncompliance. As it has for many years, Russia chose to keep its noncompliant missile rather than going back into compliance with its treaty obligations,” he added.
The Novator 9M729 cruise missile (designated by NATO as SSC-8) weighs 1,700 kilograms (3,748 pounds) and covers ranges beyond 500 kilometers (310 miles), which the US says, violates the treaty.
However, tensions between the two sides over the treaty are not new. Both Washington and Moscow have been accusing each other for years of violating the treaty, which was signed in 1987 and prohibits the two countries from manufacturing, deploying and testing short-range (500-1,000 km) and medium-range (1,000-5,500 km) missiles.
In the statement, Pompeo pinned the blame squarely on Moscow and asserted that the US “remains committed to effective arms control that advances US, allied, and partner security.”
The top US diplomat went further and said that US President Donald Trump wishes to start “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 added.
Meanwhile, Russia firmly laid the blame with the US.
“On 2 August 2019 the Treaty between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America on the elimination of medium- and short-range missiles, signed in Washington on 8 December 1987, was terminated at the initiative of the American side,” a statement from the foreign ministry said.
NATO supported Washington’s decision and also blamed Russia for the deterioration of the pact.
“Today, the INF Treaty ceases to exist because Russia has deployed the SSC-8 missile system,” the Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“They can reach European cities with only minutes of warning time. And they lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict. All NATO Allies agree that these missiles violate the INF Treaty,” he added.
Trump announced his intention to pull out of the treaty in Oct. 2018 and since then has indicated that China was an important factor in that decision.
China is not part of any disarmament treaty and currently controls the “largest and most diverse missile force in the world, with an inventory of more than 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles,” Harry Harris, then the head of United States Pacific Command, told the American Senate in April 2017.
The US currently does not have the capacity to counter Chinese ballistic missiles.
In fact, it would take years for the US to have effective deployment capability as for 32 years it has complied with the treaty with Russia, an American official told the media on grounds of anonymity.
The idea of a three-way disarmament treaty that includes Washington, Moscow and Beijing has been welcomed by some European countries such as Germany.
But, in February, Chinese state councilor Yang Jiechi, architect of the Asian country’s foreign policy, ruled out that possibility and denied that Beijing was going to halt its plans to modernize the armed forces with improvements in military technologies, from high-speed cruise missiles to artificial intelligence.
However, disarmament advocates such as the Arms Control Association believe that Trump is using Beijing to justify his exit from the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty signed by Russia and the US in 2010 and which expires in 2021.
Frank Rose, who was head of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance for the US Department of State between 2014-2017, believes that INF treaty has become obsolete.
“The fundamental problem is that the existing framework has not been able to respond effectively to security changes in Europe and Asia, especially in the face of the emergence of new players such as China and the evolution of technology, such as advanced ballistic missiles,” Rose told EFE.
With the INF dead, the Trump administration is already preparing to upgrade its military capabilities: the Pentagon has asked Congress for $10 million in its fiscal 2020 budget to develop the missiles banned so far by the treaty.