US threatens to pull out of INF Treaty: What is this treaty about?

Shubham Ghosh

Washington, Oct 23: US President Donald Trump has revealed his intention to withdraw from yet another key international peace agreement and his announcement made last Saturday, October 20, has left the world deeply worried. Trump has now targeted the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which the US had concluded with the former Soviet Union in 1987 as a crucial step towards halting arms race. He has threatened to pull out of the agreement accusing Russia of not honouring it. Moscow has counter-threatened to restore the military balance if the US went ahead to scuttle the important pact which was inked by former US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

What is the INF Treaty?

The treaty was signed on December 8, 1987, at the White House in Washington and it required both the Cold War rivals to eliminate and permanently disown all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500-5,500 kilometres. The treaty saw the first time the two nuclear opponents agreeing to curb their nuclear arsenals and utilise on-site inspections for verification. It was after committing to de-armament under the INF Treaty that the US and Soviet Union - the two superpowers of the Cold War era - destroying as many as 2,692 short-, medium- and intermediate-range missiles within the agreement's implementation deadline, i.e., June 1, 1991.

Also Read | Restoring military balance is Russia's option against US pull-out from INF Treaty

The INF's compulsions initially were applicable only to the US and Soviet Union but the treaty's membership later increased to include the successor states of the USSR once it collapsed. Today, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine also join the US and Russia to observe the treaty's implementation. Two other Central Asian republics - Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - had INF facilities but forgo treaty meetings with approvals from other state parties.

Although just five countries are parties to the treaty, several European countries also destroyed the INF-banned missiles since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. While Germany, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic got rid of their intermediate-range missiles in the 1990s, Slovakia destroyed its remaining intermediate-range missiles in 2000. The last country to possess the intermediate-range missiles in eastern Europe, Bulgaria, destroyed its missiles relevant under the INF Treaty in 2002.

US is accusing Russia of violating INF Treaty obligations since 2014

The US first raised allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty obligations, in its Compliance Report of July 2014. It said Russia was not honouring the treaty's obligations "not to possess, produce, or flight-test" a ground-launched cruise missile having a range between 500-5,500 kilometres. The US came up with identical allegations in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and in March last year, a top US official reports of Russia deploying non-compliant missiles.

Russia, meanwhile denied the allegations and counter-accused Washington of placing a nuclear defence launch system in Europe that can be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defence tests with characteristics similar to the INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles.

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