By Nicole Gaouette and Jennifer Hansler
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday that the US is suspending the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key pact with Russia that has been a centerpiece of European security since the Cold War.
“For years, Russia has violated the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty without remorse,” Pompeo said, speaking from the State Department. “Russia’s violations put millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk.”
“It is our duty to respond appropriately,” Pompeo said, adding that the US had provided “ample time” to Russia to return to compliance.
The long-expected suspension, which has raised concerns about a renewed arms race with Moscow and put European allies on edge, goes into effect on Saturday. Pompeo’s announcement starts a 180-day clock to complete withdrawal unless Russia returns to compliance with the 1987 agreement.
President Donald Trump and his senior officials had been signaling for months that they were ready to pull out of the INF treaty, which the US accuses Moscow of violating since 2014.
“The United States has fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years, but we will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions,” Trump said in a statement Friday. “We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other.”
Russia and the US are the only two parties to the treaty, but it significantly affects European security.
The ground-based nuclear tipped cruise missiles covered by the bilateral agreement can fly between 310 to 3,100 miles, making them a threat to Europe, where officials have unanimously backed the US decision, even as they consider their next steps and admit having little to no optimism that the treaty can be saved.
In a statement, NATO said America’s allies “fully support” the US decision because of Russia’s threat to Euro-Atlantic security and its refusal to provide any credible response or take any steps towards full and verifiable compliance.
NATO urged Russia to use the next six months to “return to full and verifiable compliance to preserve the INF Treaty.”
Even as they voice support for the US decision, the prospect of the INF’s dissolution is deeply worrying for Europe governments, where officials expressed deep concern about what the US decision will mean.
Russia is likely to use the US withdrawal as an excuse to deploy systems elsewhere, many analysts said, possibly unleashing an arms race of previously prohibited weapons systems.
“The bigger picture is what kind of sign you’re sending out, what message you’re sending,” said one European official. “For us, this treaty was extremely important for our security. What are we looking at instead” if it is scrapped, the official asked.