Why is the INF Treaty on the verge of collapsing?

Missile launch during a Russian military exercise

Missile launch during a Russian military exercise, © dpa

01.02.2019 - Article

The INF Treaty on disarmament has contributed to security in Europe over many decades. If Russia continues to contravene the Treaty, it will terminate in six months’ time.

For five years now, Russia has failed to react to the allegations that it has violated the INF Treaty by developing a new missile. The United States has now announced that it is withdrawing from the Treaty. What is behind it all?

What is the INF Treaty?

The INF Treaty (on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) was concluded by the United States of America and the Soviet Union in 1987. Under its terms, it was agreed to destroy all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5500 km. The Treaty also prohibited the testing of new weapons in this category.

Why is the Treaty on the verge of collapsing?

Russia has developed and tested a cruise missile prohibited under the Treaty for its armed forces. From 2013 onwards, the Obama Administration called on Moscow time and again to stop this illegal armament and to enter into a dialogue on this system, which violates the Treaty. Russia’s reaction: initially, it denied the very existence of the newly developed cruise missile. When this assurance was no longer tenable – after the US Administration revealed the Russian type designation – it was claimed that the range was just under the limit permitted by the Treaty. Such actions do nothing to strengthen mutual confidence. To date, the United States has honoured its obligations under the Treaty, while Russia continued to develop the prohibited missile until it was operational.

Russia also failed to respond to calls from Germany and Europe to reverse the Treaty violation. Ultimately, the United States gave Moscow another 60 days to comply with the Treaty. However, Russia did nothing to dismantle the illegal weapons system.

What does this withdrawal mean?

Despite the withdrawal by the United States, Russia can still save the Treaty. For it does not terminate until the completion of a six month period of notice. If it can be verified by then that Russia has dismantled the prohibited cruise missile, the INF Treaty can remain in place.

What is Germany going to do now?

The German Government will strive to ensure that arms control is again placed at the top of the international agenda. For the INF Treaty crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. States such as China and India are increasing their arms arsenals on a massive scale. Artificial intelligence and attacks in cyberspace are creating new threats for which there is no international set of rules. Germany will therefore work actively in the international arena to ensure that existing arms control agreements are maintained, that the greatest possible number of states are bound by them and that rules are drawn up for tomorrow’s weapons systems.


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