The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was agreed in 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. President Donald Trump formally launched the process of leaving the treaty on February 1 this year, triggering the six-month process of halting Washington’s participation. Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill suspending Russia’s participation last month after refusing to destroy missiles that the US says are in breach of the deal.
The agreement means that neither nation could possess or deploy any missile with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
Washington officials claimed that Russia’s 9M729 cruise missiles are banned under the INF – a claim vehemently denied by Putin.
They say they will not retract their withdrawal unless Moscow destroys the projectiles by the deadline set for today.
National security adviser John Bolton – a known hawk who welcomes conflict with Russia and Iran – has been dismissive of extending the treaty since entering the White House.
He said: “Why extend the flawed system just to say you have a treaty?”
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper claimed: “I think the INF Treaty has served us well, but it only works if both parties comply.
“The United States will remain in compliance with all of our obligations until August 2 and after that point in time, we will continue to pursue what is in our best interest.”
Several congressmen have hit out at the move, with Senator Bob Menendez claiming the broken treaty could result in another Cold War.
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He added: “Now that the treaty is over, we will see the development and deployment of new weapons.
“Russia is already ready.”
Trump has said he wants a new arms control deal to include China as well as Russia.
He said on Tuesday: “I think we are going to end up making a deal with Russia where we have some kind of arms control because all we are doing is adding on to what we don’t need and they are too.
“And China is trying to catch us both.”
This was backed up by Mr Esper, who acknowledged the extent of China’s intermediate-range missile inventory.
He said: “We need to make sure we have the capability as well to respond should we, God forbid, get in a fight with them one day.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith expressed concern over whether a future arms control agreement would ever be agreed.
Mr Smith responded that although he feels Russia is violating the treaty, a deal needed to be done quickly.
He added: “I am worried that we don’t seem to have a path forward on an arms control discussion with Russia, or with China for that matter and that the administration seems unwilling to move forward on that path.”
The removal of the INF treaty means the new START treaty is the only arms control pact between Moscow and Washington.
It caps the number of nuclear warheads allowed to 1,550.
However, the agreement is set to expire in 2021 and Trump and Bolton are unlikely to want to extend it.