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The Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty

Preamble:  While I was on my hiatus the United States and Russia abrogated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty.  This is a treaty that I was involved in negotiating so I provide some insights today.

In1987 INF Treaty was agreed to between the US and the Soviet Union.  The negotiations had their genesis in the NATO Dual Track Decision of 1979. In December 1979, the United States and its NATO allies adopted a long-term strategy to remove the threat posed by new Soviet intermediate-range missiles.

The Dual Track Decision was built on “two parallel and complementary approaches.” First, the United States agreed to deploy intermediate-range missiles of its own to Europe. European nations—Germany, Italy, the UK and Belgium agreed to have either ground-based long range cruise missiles or modernized Pershing missiles—Pershing IIs (PIIs)– stationed on their territory.  Second, it would leverage these new missiles in an arms control negotiation with Moscow with the aim of convincing the Soviets to dismantle their weapons. The negotiations both within the US government and those with our NATO allies were extremely divisive.

In fact, as a participant in the intra-governmental activities I can attest to the issues involved.  One short vignette might make the point.  In 1979 the US and NATO were involved in the Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) negotiations where the allies were seeking to reduce Soviet conventional forces in Eastern Europe.  Part of the offer from NATO included the removal of nuclear capable Pershing I (PIs) missiles for a Soviet Tank Army.  The Army Staff had been unsuccessful in convincing the Carter Administration that it was impossible to negotiate away Pershing Is (PIs) in MBFR and PIIs in the INF negotiations that were to be.  Finally we took a model of a PI and a bag of parts over to the State Department.  We tore the PI model apart and then using the bag of parts we build a model of a PII.  Finally the light came on in Foggy Bottom.

Within Europe there were numerous anti-nuclear demonstrations.  It was necessary to have multiple nations basing the new systems to insure that alliance resolve was maintained.

After 8 years of negotiations the resulting treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and employ extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

Like all arms control agreements between the US and the Soviet Union there were continual claims of treaty violations by both sides. The United States first alleged in its July 2014 Annual Compliance Report to Congress that Russia was in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” Subsequent State Department assessments in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 repeated these allegations. In March 2017, a top US official confirmed press reports that Russia had begun deploying the noncompliant missile. Russia has denied that it is in violation of the agreement and has accused the United States of being in noncompliance.

In December 2017 the Trump administration released an integrated strategy to counter alleged Russian violations of the treaty, including the commencement of research and development on a conventional, road-mobile, intermediate-range missile system. In October 2018, President Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the INF Treaty, citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s intermediate-range missile arsenal. Then in December, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the United States found Russia in “material breach” of the treaty and would suspend its treaty obligations in 60 days if Russia did not return to compliance in that time. In February the Trump administration declared a suspension of US obligations under the INF Treaty and formally announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty in six months. Shortly thereafter, Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced that Russia will be officially suspending its treaty obligations as well.

Last August the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty.

The formal stated reason for withdrawal from the Treaty may have been Russian Non-Compliance, however in the second Obama Administration the US began its tilt away from the major threat being in Europe towards concern about the Chinese threat in the Pacific.  One of the problems with defense in the region was that the US was prohibited from basing ground based intermediate nuclear forces on the littorals of China because they could range into Russia.  Many work arounds were considered such as basing cruise missiles on barges—hence technically not ground based.  Elimination of the treaty has solved this problem.

The US Army has been working on developing the hardware that would have the Army fighting a long range defense of islands in the Pacific without significant naval support.  Strange task organizations of limited maneuver forces, but layered air/missile defense and engagement means out to 500 miles to engage a hostile naval force and attrite it without naval or air support have been looked at.  If I were a sceptic I would suggest that this is the Army seeking to remain relevant in the Pacific Theater.

The Russians’ paranoia about being invaded from the expanded NATO (its Eastern European buffer seized after World War II is gone) is the reason for the basing of longer range nuclear forces in Eastern European Russia.  The Russians perceive a strategic need to base intermediate range nuclear forces in the old treaty area to be able to deter the much expanded NATO.  Can there be a new INF Treaty?  Will the international dynamics be such as to create a win-win situation for the two sides?


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