The INF Treaty: A Reality Check

October 26, 2018 Updated: October 28, 2018

President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 21 that the United States would withdraw from the INF treaty (full name: 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).

And to hear the pig-caught-in-a-gate squeals by those who make a living from viewing-with-alarm, one would think that the sky had fallen. And, in addition, it was another cataclysmic action by a president who bullishly carries his own china shop for instant breakage.

However, the sky hasn’t fallen.  There is barely a crack in the ceiling.

Although the INF treaty is of unlimited duration, it has a standard withdrawal clause (Article XV, “It shall give notice of its decision to withdraw to the other party six months prior to withdrawal … [and] include a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”

Thus, the president’s statement is hortatory rather than substantive.

It stands in the same category of his denunciations of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the worst agreement ever negotiated and his suggestions that the United States was more interested in defending NATO allies that made a major contribution to their defense. Or his exchange of mutual denunciations with Pyongyang’s Kim Jong Un.  But we didn’t tear up NAFTA, NATO allies have boosted defense spending, and Kim and Trump are playing bromance partners.

Consequently, one might regard the presidential announcement and the follow-up discussions by national security adviser John Bolton on Oct. 23 in the same light: a gauntlet tossed to identify a serious security problem.

In essence, the Russians have violated the INF treaty by developing, testing, manufacturing, and, now, deploying a ground-launched cruise missile (SSC-8). For those who wring their hands and say we should discuss, negotiate, and compromise to find a solution to the violation, we can only respond:  “We’ve tried.” It isn’t as if we have just identified this violation. Starting at least in 2014, we approached the Russians asking that they stop the development, then not to test the missile, then not to produce it, and finally not to deploy it.

At every juncture, Moscow has denied the missile violates the INF treaty—and counter-charged that United States’s deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe violates the treaty.

Of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of violations must be taken with a pillar of salt. They are akin to his contention that the “little green men” fighting the Ukrainian government aren’t Russian soldiers. Or that no Russian Olympic athletes were drug-enhanced. Or that the two GRU intelligence agents who attempted to murder former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK were tourists fascinated by Salisbury Cathedral.

In fact, every observer examining the evidence associated with the SSC-8 has agreed that it violates the INF treaty parameters.

So, there is a point when negotiating becomes enabling: You know your opponent is lying; (s)he knows that you know the lies; but the lies continue with implacable arrogance.

There are some underlying realities:

• The SSC-8 has yet to be deployed in locations/numbers designed to threaten NATO members;

• NATO does not feel threatened in the manner it did in the 1970s–80s, and has no stomach for reliving the domestic turmoil associated with the United States’s INF deployments countering SS-20s;

• There is no likelihood that other nations with INF systems, e.g., China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea, will agree to zero out their missiles.

But there are some counters:

• Immediately publish comprehensive, compelling information and intelligence for our conclusion that the SSC-8 is a treaty violation;

• Brief the NATO alliance extensively and seek formal NATO recognition that Russian action violates the treaty and must be addressed;

• Propose negotiations to modify the treaty to permit one “exception” for a ground-launched cruise missile, with limited numbers and subject to a detailed verification regime. For the Russians, the SSC-8; for the United States, a modified sea- or air-launched cruise missile.

Such a proactive approach would move the United States past the “I’m going to withdraw” ultimatum while making it clear that we are finished playing feckless reindeer games with Putin. It would emphasize alliance consultations, reassuring NATO’s nervous Nellies. And, in politico-military terms, it would permit the United States to develop a useful weapon in our defense spectrum.

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign-service career officer, who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned more than 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as an adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.