How the Dissolution of the INF Treaty Plays into the Hands of Putin
On October 20, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intentions to lead the U.S. out of the Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF. The INF treaty was signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who as of late has publicly noted that this move by President Trump is a large “‘mistake.’” While Trump’s reasoning cites exiting the agreement as a recognition of Russia’s previous violations and noncompliance with the stated terms, the decision holds the weight to play largely into the hands of Russian state ambitions and nuclear armament prospects generating uncertainty and unrest across the European region.
The original INF treaty founded the conditions on which both the U.S. and Russia would limit their ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,420 miles. However, these limitations have not been stringently adhered to by either party in question since the treaty’s inception. Beginning in 2008, Russia reportedly began test launching cruise missiles in direct violation of the treaty’s parameters. Moreover, the U.S. is stipulated to be in violation of the treaty with its positioning of the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System (MK-41) in Romania and Poland, a traditionally defensive weapon, but with potentially offensive capabilities. While problems obviously lie in keeping both countries accountable to the measures of this historically limiting nuclear arms agreement, the real trouble in Trump’s announcements lays in the power and leverage that freeing Russia from abiding by the treaty would lend towards Putin’s aims for the state.
Notably before the wake of President Trump’s proposed U.S. retraction from the INF, President Putin boasted of Russia’s nuclear might and potential for retaliatory power. Putin claimed that while Russia would never be the first to strike in a nuclear confrontation, it would not hesitate to launch back at aggressors. Additionally, amongst the Russian executive and defensive ministries the INF treaty is reportedly slandered for its negative restrictions on Russian nuclear capabilities at large. The overarching sentiment, unbeknownst to the public, seems to be that Trump’s exit would actually play right into the hands of Putin’s goals to situate Russia back at the forefront of global affairs. Eradicating the INF is beneficial to Russia’s constrained desires for nuclear expansion, which once released, could be used as a method of assertion against the West.
Putin is bolstered by Trump’s withdrawal, as U.S. initiation of breakdown shifts blame readily onto the West for the dissolution of cooperation. Trump’s go-it-alone stance destabilizes America’s relationship with NATO allies, especially in tenuously vulnerable areas in Russia’s near proximity in Central and Eastern Europe. The restrictions to be lost by the retraction of the INF will allow for Russia to proliferate nuclear arms production and potentially, mark the start of a new-age nuclear arms race. The ramifications from an American exit have yet to be seen, as only initial talks are underway. However, the failure of the INF slates a negative path even for other existing nuclear cooperation agreements, such as the Obama-era New START.