Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia a 60-day deadline on Dec. 4, to come into compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
If Russia fails to take action and destroy the SSC-8 missiles and launchers, which the U.S. says are in violation of the landmark 1987 arms pact, Washington will initiate the formal process to withdraw from the treaty, according to Pompeo.
“Our nations have a choice. We either bury our head in the sand or we take common-sense action in response to Russia’s flagrant disregard for the express terms of the INF Treaty,” Pompeo said Dec. 4, at a press conference during the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Belgium.
By signing the treaty, the United States and Russia agreed to ban the use, testing, and possession of short- and mid-range ballistic missiles. The United States holds that Russia has violated the treaty since the mid-2000s by testing the SSC-8 missile system.
President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 20, that the United States will pull out of the treaty, but no formal notice has been served. The withdrawal will be effective six months after an official notice is served.
The United States remains in compliance with the treaty, according to the Department of State. The United States informed Russia of its violation on at least 30 occasions since 2013.
“Russia’s reply has been consistent: deny any wrongdoing, demand more information, and issue baseless counter-accusations,” Pompeo said.
Moscow refused to acknowledge the existence of the missile system for four years. In 2017, after the United States released the name of the missile system, Russia admitted to its existence but said it was in compliance with the treaty.
Top U.S. officials view Russia’s non-compliance with the INF Treaty as part of Moscow’s broader campaign of malign activity around the globe, including in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria.
The INF Treaty is only binding on Russia and the United States, while leaving out countries like China, Iran, and North Korea.
China, in particular, has developed a formidable arsenal of short- and mid-range missiles which the United States cannot deploy under the treaty. One-third to one-half of China’s ballistic missile arsenal would violate the INF if Beijing was bound by the treaty, according to a U.S. assessment. American officials attempted to bring China into the treaty on three occasions, failing each time.
Pompeo noted that the decision was motivated in part by Trump’s agenda to not support international agreements which “undermine our security, our interests, or our values.” The top U.S. diplomat added that the action will show the world that the U.S. is upholding the law and will hold its treaty partners accountable for violations.
“If we do not, we will get cheated by other nations, expose Americans to greater risk, and squander our credibility,” Pompeo said.
NATO foreign ministers agreed to formally declare Russia in “material breach” of the INF Treaty in a statement of support for the United States, after Pompeo briefed them at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Russian violations.
U.S. allies lobbied Pompeo to provide the 60-day window, hoping that a diplomatic solution can be secured during that time. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that European nations will engage in an intense diplomatic push to bring Russia into compliance.
“Russia has a last chance to show in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty … but we also have to start to prepare for the fact that this treaty may break down,” Stoltenberg said.
Pompeo said that Russia deployed the SSC-8 missile battalions specifically to threaten NATO and its assets in Europe.
“Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe,” Pompeo said of the SSC-8, adding that only Russia can save the treaty from demise.