President Donald Trump said on Saturday that the U.S. will pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, a decades-old pact limiting strategic weapons development, signed between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.
Trump made the remarks to reporters after attending a rally in the state of Nevada. He accused Russia of violating the 1987 treaty without providing any evidence.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years and I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” Trump said. “We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement but Russian has not, unfortunately …. so were going to terminate the agreement.”
“The agreement has been violated for many years,” he said.
“We’ll have to develop those weapons,” Trump added.
When asked by a reporter if pulling out of the agreement would lead to the United States developing the weapons, Trump said yes.
“We’ll have to develop those weapons. Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,” Trump said. “But if Russia’s doing it and if China is doing it and were adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable.
“If others get smart and say let’s not develop these horrible nuclear weapons I would be extremely happy with that. But as long as someone is violating that agreement we’re not going to be the only ones to adhere to it,” Trump said.
Under the terms of the treaty, it would take six months for U.S. withdrawal to take effect.
Trump’s words came as his National Security Adviser John Bolton was heading to Russia on Saturday, who has been reported to tell Russian leaders about U.S. plan to exit the landmark deal.
The Trump administration will tell Russian leaders next week about the plan to exit the landmark treaty, partly to enable the United States to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton is expected to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin next week during a trip to Moscow.
The INF treaty, ,signed between former President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, bans the development, deployment and testing of ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 300 miles (483 km) and 3,400 miles (5472 km).
Moscow and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of violating the treaty.
In May, a Russian military official claimed that the United States continues testing its missile defense systems and producing missiles which are prohibited by the INF treaty.
US hawks have also argued that the INF treaty ties the country’s hands in its strategic rivalry with China in the Pacific, with no response to Chinese medium-range missiles that could threaten US bases, allies and shipping.
Bolton and the top arms control adviser in the National Security Council (NSC), Tim Morrison, are also opposed to the extension of another major pillar of arms control, the 2010 New Start agreement with Russia, which limited the number of deployed strategic warheads on either side to 1,550. That agreement, signed by Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, then president of Russia, is due to expire in 2021.
“This is the most severe crisis in nuclear arms control since the 1980s,” said Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute in the UK. “If the INF treaty collapses, and with the New Start treaty on strategic arms due to expire in 2021, the world could be left without any limits on the nuclear arsenals of nuclear states for the first time since 1972.”
Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said: “This is a colossal mistake. Russia gets to violate the treaty and Trump takes the blame.
“I doubt very much that the US will deploy much that would have been prohibited by the treaty. Russia, though, will go gangbusters.”
Russian state news agencies on Saturday cited a foreign ministry source as saying Washington’s move to pull out of the treaty is motivated by a dream of a single global superpower.
“The main motive is a dream of a unipolar world. Will it come true? No,” a foreign ministry source told Ria Novosti state news agency.
The official said that Russia has “many times publicly denounced the US policy course towards dismantling the nuclear deal”.
Washington “has approached this step over the course of many years by deliberately and step-by-step destroying the basis for the agreement,” the official said, quoted by Russia’s three main news agencies.
“This decision is part of the US policy course to withdraw from those international legal agreements that place equal responsibilities on it and its partners and make vulnerable its concept of its own ‘exceptionalism’.”
Russian senator Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter that the move was “the second powerful blow against the whole system of strategic stability in the world, with the first being Washington’s 2001 withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty”.
“And again the initiator of the dissolution of the agreement is the US,” Pushkov wrote.
The Pentagon has been generally supportive of the INF treaty but defense secretary James Mattis warned other Nato ministers earlier this month it would no longer be tenable if Russia did not withdraw its Novator ground-based missile, which the US has argued for nearly four years violates the INF range restrictions.
Nato ministers issued a joint statement saying the INF agreement “has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security and we remain fully committed to the preservation of this landmark arms control treaty”. But they urged Russia to come clean about the capabilities of its new missile.
The Chinese arsenal has also been a source of concern for the US Pacific Command. Its former commander, Adm Harry Harris, told the Senate in March: “We have no ground-based capability that can threaten China because of, among other things, our rigid adherence, and rightfully so, to the treaty that we sign on to, the INF treaty.”
Lewis disagreed that the INF leaves the US at a significant disadvantage in the Pacific.
“The China stuff is nonsense,” he said. “INF does not prohibit sea- and air-based systems, not does it prohibit South Korea and Japan from developing long-range missiles. If China were a real problem, the US and its allies could have acted long ago.”
Alexandra Bell, a former senior state department official and now senior policy director at the Centre for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, said: “When problems arise in arms control, you work and fix them.
“What shocks me is that this president who is constantly telling us he is deal-maker has failed utterly to save Reagan’s nuclear legacy. He did nothing with his relationship with Putin. There were trades to be made to fix this treaty and he couldn’t pull it off.”
She added: “Why would the North Koreans have any reason to believe in any deal made with this president, with Bolton whispering in his ear.”
Image : U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Marine One at the White House.