INF nuclear treaty: Nato ‘to avoid arms race’ after US-Russia pact ends

INF nuclear treaty: Nato ‘to avoid arms race’ after US-Russia pact ends

Nato will aim to avoid a new arms race with Russia, its secretary general says, after the US formally withdrew from a key nuclear treaty with Moscow.

Both Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have blamed Russia for the Cold War treaty’s collapse.

Nato and the US accuse Russia of violating the pact by deploying a new type of missile, which Russia denies.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force banned missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500km (310-3,400 miles).

The INF treaty was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 but its collapse more than 30 years later has raised fears of a news arms race.

Why has it ended?

Last year the Americans said they had evidence that the new Russian cruise missiles fall within the range banned by the treaty.

Accusations about the 9M729 missiles – known to Nato as SSC-8 – were then put to Washington’s Nato allies, which all backed the US claim.

In February, President Donald Trump set the 2 August deadline for the US to withdraw from the pact if Russia didn’t come into compliance.

Components of SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system are on display during a news briefing, January 2019Russia’s new 9M729 missile worries the US and its allies

Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended his country’s own obligations to the treaty shortly afterwards.

“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Friday.

“With the full support of our Nato allies, the United States has determined Russia to be in material breach of the treaty, and has subsequently suspended our obligations under the treaty,” he added.

Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed the INF treaty had been terminated “at the initiative of the US”, in a statement carried by the official Ria news agency.

What are the risks?

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the transatlantic alliance would “respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by the Russian 9M729 missile to allied security”.

But, he added, Nato “does not want a new arms race” and confirmed there were no plans for the alliance to deploy land-based nuclear missiles of its own in Europe.

Last month, he told the BBC that the Russian missiles were nuclear-capable,mobile, very hard to detect and could reach European cities within minutes.

Bar chart showing estimated global nuclear warhead arsenals broken down by country
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“This is serious,” he added. “The INF treaty has been a cornerstone in arms control for decades, and now we see the demise of the treaty.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that “an invaluable brake on nuclear war” was being lost.

“This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles,” he added, urging all parties to “seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control”.

Analysts fear that the collapse of the historic agreement could lead to a new arms race between the US, Russia and China.

“Now that the treaty is over, we will see the development and deployment of new weapons,” Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst, told AFP news agency. “Russia is already ready.”

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty?

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signing the INF Treaty in 1987Image Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan signed the treaty in 1987
  • Signed by the US and the USSR in 1987, the arms control deal banned all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges, except sea-launched weapons
  • The US had been concerned by the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile system in 1979 and responded by placing Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe – sparking widespread protests
  • By 1991, nearly 2,700 missiles had been destroyed
  • The two countries were allowed to inspect each other’s installations