A national defense analyst says it should surprise no one – including Russia – that President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw the United States from the arms control treaty between the two.
"To a certain degree, this is an old headline," says Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis (USA-Ret.), senior fellow for national security at the Family Research Council. "... The Trump administration certainly made it very clear [a year ago] that it had every intention to ... withdraw from INF. And, of course the Obama administration said that the Russians are violating it; [Secretaries of State John] Kerry and [Hillary] Clinton, I believe, have said the same thing."
President Trump blames the Russians for the demise of the Cold War-era pact known as the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been a centerpiece of superpower arms control since the Cold War. In December, he gave Russia a 60-day opportunity to return to compliance with the treaty – but Russia did nothing and refused to even acknowledge the violations.
"It's no secret that we were upset," Maginnis continues. "I don't believe anybody is going to be surprised that President Trump isn't bashful about these sorts of things."
In a written statement issued by the White House today, the president said Russia has violated the treaty "for too long ... with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad." In a separate statement, Trump says "Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement, so we're going to terminate the agreement. We're going to pull out."
The U.S. will suspend its obligations effective tomorrow (February 2, 2019) and will also serve notice to all parties of the treaty that the U.S. will withdraw from the treaty in six months. "Only Russia's complete and verifiable destruction of its INF-violating missiles, their launchers, and associated equipment can save the INF Treaty," the president adds.
Maginnis says even though it's been known for years that Russia has violated the treaty, nothing was done until Trump decided that he's not going to tolerate it any longer. "He says, Nope, we're going to pull out – and if you want to renegotiate, fine, we'll renegotiate. Otherwise, we're going to develop systems somewhere ourselves."
The White House statement is actually less diplomatic than that: "The United States has complied with the INF Treaty for more than 30 years, but we will not be held back while Russia cheats .... [We] will move forward with developing [our] own intermediate-range, conventionally-armed, ground-launched missile system."
According to Maginnis, the U.S. has been "hamstrung" to a certain degree by the treaty – "because we tend to abide by treaty agreements. So this is important that we pull out of it and that we begin to, perhaps, renegotiate treaties that would cause them to have to destroy weapons, or we have to develop weapons to counter those weapons."
"In fact," he continues, "because of Russian aggression – certainly in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere – we've seen evidence of their sophisticated weaponry and how it threatens our interests. Therefore it makes no sense to hold them to this."
The Pentagon advisor also points out because China isn't party to the INF Treaty, it has been "unfettered" to do what it wants in developing similar weapons – "which is problematic for us given if you look at the report on China and Russia by the Defense Intelligence Agency."
That being the case, Maginnis detects a two-part strategy from the White House: "And that is to set the Russians back, allow us to go forward, and of course try figure out how to bring the Chinese into some sort of mutually agreeable treaty in the future that will limit their capabilities as well."
And that is the challenge, Maginnis concludes: "On the international stage, you can't pretend that this is not a threat. You have to acknowledge it, and you have to take the preparations that are necessary."
In his foreign policy statement, Trump reassures America's allies it is committed to effective arms control that advances the security of the United States, its allies, and its partners – but that those agreements on arms control must be "verifiable and enforceable – and include partners that comply responsibly with their obligations."
Image above is from a Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki in 2018.