08 August 2019

INF Treaty’s demise and the end of European peace

Niculae Iancu

At the beginning of August, the six months deadline US imposed to Russia to come to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has expired. Therefore, the INF Treaty, which was the foundation of the current international architecture on the lessening and elimination of all conventional and nuclear weapons, has collapsed. The regulation gap left behind is extremely dangerous as it could start a nuclear arms race, now even more sophisticated, technologically speaking, and deadly for the entire European continent.

Image source: Mediafax

A short view on the INF Treaty

The INF Treaty signed on 8th of December 1987, by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, US and URSS presidents, marked the most important moment in Cold War’s history. Under treaty’s aegis, both superpowers, which have dominated the bipolar world for almost half century, have agreed on permanently giving up the 500-5000 range of action ballistic and cruise missiles. It was for the very first time when an agreement of such a magnitude was being signed. The arms race was then reaching an unpreceded level, in an era wherefore the nuclear threat was the greatest scourge created by the human kind ever. The agreement was eliminating an entire category of nuclear weapons from war’s equation, used starting with the 1970 by both Iron Curtain’s parts, with a huge potential to start or escalate a devastating conflict, at least inside the European area.
The gravity of using such nuclear arsenal is amplified by extremely little time when atomic warhead vectors travel the trajectories to the target. The maximum timespan of 10 minutes from launch to impact makes it impossible for a timely response from the attacked part, becoming a safe victim, including - or especially - in the case of accidental uses. Moreover, the treaty was providing also security guarantees by introducing on-site inspections for verification. Based on treaty’s provisions, the US and the Soviet Union have destroyed a total of 2 692 missiles- 1 846 Russian missiles and 846 American ones- with short, medium and intermediary range of action, before 1st of June 1991. Six months later, USS was dissolved.

Despite Cold War’s end, the INF Treaty continued to exist. Four former Soviet states, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, whose military infrastructures were under treaty’s incidence, joined the treaty. Under treaty’s provisions auspices, the destruction of intermediary range of action missiles possessed by Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria continues until 2000. In fact, the membership to this threaty was going to set these states’ foundation towards the NATO integration. States-parties' rights to conduct on-site inspections under the treaty ended on May 31, 2001, but the use of surveillance satellites for data collection continued, under the coordination of the Special Verification Commission (SVC), a body created for the member states to provide treaty’s implementation effectiveness.

The INF Treaty opened the path of a consistent process to reduce the biggest part of US and Russian Federation’s nuclear arsenal. For more than two decades, a series of strategic agreements to reduce nuclear weapons, like START I, START II and the New START, has allowed the significant decrease of the atomic weapons possessed by the two greatest military powers, from more than 70 000 ogives, in 1987, to under 15 000.

The slow dissolution of the INF Treaty

Nowadays, there are more and more talks on how some states, like China or North Korea, had took advantage on signatory states’ limits regarding international treaties’ provisions relevance framework dedicated to the elimination or decrease of conventional or nuclear weapons. However, these concerns are anything but new. Russia discussed about its possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty since the midst of 2000, being concerned with the development and operationalization of missiles to strike its territory, especially by neighbors such as China. Also, Moscow accused Washington, back then, for developing systems dedicated to combating ballistic missiles on Europe’s territory, thinking that these could execute also offensive missions against Russia.

Despite such concerns, US and Russia presented, on 25th of October 2007, a joint declaration, within the 62th session of UN’s General Assembly, on the occasion of two decades since signing the INF treaty. Then, both states were reaffirming their commitment on following treaty’s provision and were asking all states to join them in creating a “global regime to eliminate intermediary range of action missiles, as part of the international nuclear non-proliferation effort”.

Afterwards, Moscow was going to start the aggressive actions to reaffirm its great military power stance within the international system. Then, it started the events we all know about, initiated through the war in Georgia, from 2008, and reaching the climax with the illegal annexation of Crimea, in 2014.

Starting with 2014, the State and Defence departments, as well as the US media, have repeatedly accused Russia for developing missiles which were violating the treaty. Even if Moscow claims that those systems, the SSC-7 Iskander GLMC and SSC-8 Novator 9M729, have different range of action or destinations than treaty’s ones, the American congress had adopted active economic and military measures to diminish INF Treaty’s violation consequences by the Russian part. In Representatives House Decision no. H.R. 1182 from 2017, it is mentioned that “It is not in the national security interests of the United States to be legally prohibited from developing dual-capable ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, while Russia makes advances in developing and fielding this class of weapon systems”. Furthermore, “A material breach of the INF Treaty by the Russian Federation affords the United States the right to invoke such breach as grounds for suspending the operation of the treaty in whole or in part”. Consequently, the American administration has adopted a set of coordinated diplomatic measures, through the Special Verification Commission of the INF Treaty, military-based, by allocating funds to develop the new dual capacity systems, respectively to impose economic sanctions to Russian companies that are joining Moscow’s arms programs that are under treaty’s incidence.

On 20th of October, President Donald Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the INF Treaty after Russia continued to violate its provisions, but also due to concerns on China’s unlimited development of new weapon systems which, usually, would be at issue with treaty’s provisions. According to American specialists’ estimations, 95% of all the Chinese missiles could enter under INF Treaty’s incidence, if Beijing would join the agreement. In Trump’s announcement’s note, Daniel Coats, the national director of US Intelligence, has presented, at the end of November, new evidences on Russia developing some fixed and mobile launch installation of intermediary range of action missiles. The conclusions were built upon the interpretation of Russia’s tests with the long-disputed system 9M729. After only a few days, on 4th of December 2018, secretary of state Mike Pompeo has transmitted Moscow White House’s Administration deadline regarding the cancellation of US’s obligations in terms of the INF Treaty, if Russia will not come to compliance in 60 days.

During the same day, Moscow’s Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson, has publicly announced that they received US ambassador’s note, which had all Washington’s authorities requests. On that occasion, Zakharova has stated that she “would like to take this opportunity to stress that Russia has repeatedly said that these are far-fetched allegations. We have yet to see evidence confirming the position of the US. If this evidence was presented to NATO members, why is the US not willing to share it with Russia? Let me emphasize that Russia has never received any materials, data or facts from anyone proving that Moscow was in breach of this treaty or failed to comply in good faith with its provisions. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the INF Treaty as one of the cornerstones of strategic stability and international security. Russia is categorically opposed to the breakdown of this framework.” Furthermore, President Vladimir Putin was stating, on 5th of December 2018, that Russia will answer to US’s actions “simple”, by doing “the same thing”, meanwhile the chief of the general staff of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov, was announcing, on a serious tone, that the American military infrastructure on European allied states’ territory will become the target of Russian offensive military capacities. Therefore, the antimissile system from Deveselu entered Russia’s armed forces’ short military objectives list . In fact, the American military facilities from Romania were many times nominated to Moscow’s officials as being, in their visions, a critical source of regional instability.

During the two months US gave Russia to come to compliance, there were held meetings, between both parts’ experts representatives, but no concrete result came out. Hence, President Donald Trump has announced, on 1st of February 2019, US’s suspension of all obligations entering INF Treaty’s incidence and its intention to decry it in six months. Shortly after that, President Putin took “symmetrical” measures on behalf of the Russian Federation, across a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the minister of Defence, Sergei Shoygu. On this occasion, Putin was mentioning that “All of our proposals in this sphere, as before, remain on the table, the doors for talks are open. We are opened to negotiations. […] We are starting from the idea that we will not dislocate intermediary or short range of action weapons, if we will do so, it will be neither in Europe, nor in other part of the world, before such American weapons will be dislocated in different regions in the world”. In Washington, Moscow’s authorities messages are just subtle propaganda, built on “myths”, aiming at buckling the reality.

After half year, on 2nd of August 2019, the INF Treaty ended.

What is next?

The INF Treaty collapse can lead to a nuclear arms race. This is something that we could hardly thought of at the end of the Cold War and was also unlikely to happen a decade ago, when US and Russia were signing the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). Treaty’s end affects, first of all, the European security, especially that Russia’s intermediary range of action weapons cannot reach United States’ territory. These weapons will target the American interests in Europe and will be directed against targets as the NATO military facilities on the European continent. The operationalization of medium range of action missiles will significantly intensify a nuclear escalation risk in case of a conflict. And the seeds of a nuclear scenario in Europe is just at the corner.

The nuclear danger flying over Europe has divided officials and security experts’ opinions on Atlantic’s two coasts, despite the consensus on the INF Treaty being violated by Russia. The US withdrawal from the treaty is not a viable solution for many European analysts, who think that this decision does not actually guarantee the evolution of future events, not only in terms of the intermediary range of action missiles, but also the strategic ones, controlled by the New START.

On the other hand, experts across the ocean think that US can no longer accept limits that only the American part will follow. And we are not talking about Russia, but also China or Iran. New missile systems’ proliferation effects can only be seen in Europe, but also in the Pacific, where “US’s adherence to the INF Treaty has already eroded its lead in the region”, as the former commander of the US Command in Pacific was stating last year. American military analysts think that the armed forces entered a new type of asymmetrical competition, unable to win it when lacking of proper capabilities. In fact, Pentagon already announced that it will test, this month, a missile to have 1000 km range of action and asked for a $10 million budget to develop such systems during the following year.

NATO’s reaction to US’s withdrawal from the treaty was quite circumspect. President Donald Trump’s October announcement, from last year, has raised some concerns among the European allies, already unhappy with American administration’s tone on the common defence budget increase. In order to continue to control the tensions with Moscow, NATO announced that it will not host weapons entering INF Treaty’s incidence on European allies’ territory. The allied measures will only be related to military exercises, antimissile defence capacities increase, the implementation of intelligence measures, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as the use of current conventional capabilities. NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that “NATO’s response to Treaty demise will be measured and responsible”. Given the context, Stoltenberg underlined that “the treaty had come to an end due to Russia’s deployment of the SSC-8 missile system which is nuclear-capable, mobile, hard to detect, and lowers the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict”. Also, the secretary general states that “all NATO Allies agree that these missiles violate the INF Treaty” and are “all supporting US’s decision to withdraw from the treaty”, mentioning that “no international agreement is effective if it is only respected by one side. Russia bears the sole responsibility for the demise of the Treaty".


The INF Treaty demise can also be regarded as a new step towards the disintegration of the global orders established at the end of World War II. International system’s functioning rules have slowly lost their ability to provide solution for the more and more complex security issues emerged during the last years. The need to reform the system was many times claimed, during the decades since the Cold War ended, but today it is more than ever obvious that it becomes harder and harder for old tools, whether there are institutional groups or cooperation mechanisms, to provide stability for a society which has already entered the 4.0 industrial revolution.

Given the circumstances, the greatest concern is that, now, there is nothing that can fill the gap created by INF Treaty’s collapse. It is not just the treaty that ended, but also the surveillance and control mechanism and norms, which were allowing the continuous regulation of Europe’s power balance. The profoundly realist world of military force capacities cannot work anymore following trade or economy’s liberal rules’ functioning. This world’s supreme legitimacy is that the lack of authority must be completed with rules. International norms are recorded in treaties. War’s laws, written or not, aim at restraining disaster’s effects, produced by a military conflict. The lack of such framework can have unexpected consequences. Unfortunately, in terms of the use of weapons, costs are paid with human lives. Time will show us who will pay the check for an unpredictable nuclear arms race, after 2nd of August 2019, the moment mankind entered in a world with no rules.

Translated by Andreea Soare