The end of the INF Treaty

Start of a Pershing II missile

Start of a Pershing II missile, © dpa - Bildarchiv

02.08.2019 - Article

With the demise of the INF Treaty, we are losing an important part of the international security architecture today. For decades, the treaty helped prevent an arms race between the major powers. In recent years, Russia stationed cruise missiles in violation of the agreement. So what happens now?

What is the INF Treaty for?

The INF Treaty (on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) was concluded by the United States of America and the Soviet Union in 1987. Signed at the height of the Cold War, it marked a turning-point: the two major powers agreed to destroy all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km (i.e. short and intermediate-range missiles). The treaty also prohibited the manufacture and testing of new weapons in this category.

Why is the INF Treaty coming to an end?

Russia has developed a ground-launched cruise missile that is prohibited under the treaty and has fielded it in its armed forces. The US and NATO members, including Germany, have repeatedly called on Russia to reverse this treaty violation. Regrettably, those calls were unsuccessful. A disarmament treaty only makes sense, of course, if both sides stick to it. That is why the United States, which has continued to uphold its treaty obligations, ultimately terminated the agreement. Russia then had six months to save the treaty by visibly disarming its missiles – but nothing was done. As of today, the six months are up and the treaty is history.

What is Germany going to do now?

Even after the demise of the INF Treaty, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation remain central to Germany’s foreign policy. Germany has placed these topics back on the agenda of the UN Security Council for the first time since 2012.

To discuss issues of security in Europe in particular, Germany is working for a structured dialogue among the members of the OSCE. Established in 2016, this format focuses on the rules-based security order and arms control in Europe.

The collapse of the INF Treaty imparts increased significance to other agreements, such as the New START Treaty between Russia and the United States, which limits the strategic arsenals of the two most powerful nuclear-weapon states. It expires in 2021 and should absolutely be preserved.

Forward-looking arms control also needs to take new technologies into account, such as cyber threats and autonomous weapon systems. To that end, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas invited experts and diplomats from around the world to Berlin in March to pool their ideas.

Germany wants to generate greater transparency on the arsenals of the nuclear-weapon states by means of common rules. Liaison and transparency generate trust, and  only trust can prevent escalation and nuclear catastrophes.

Additional content

Our goal of a world without nuclear weapons is receding ever further into the distance – but arms control must be brought back to centre stage. An article by Heiko Maas for the RND media Group.

A return to disarmament


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