Context

Recently, US has decided to withdraw from the treaty due to several issues viz. Russia’s violation of the treaty, development and deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons by China etc.

Russia has confirmed that the USA has decided to cancel the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed between Russian and the USA in 1987.

The United States alleged that Russia is in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russia denies that it is in violation of the agreement. On December 8, 2017, the Trump administration released a strategy to counter alleged Russian violations of the Treaty.

About INF Treaty:

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is the cold war treaty signed between US and Russia in 1987. The INF treaty prohibits US and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km.

The cold war era treaty also covers all land-based Missiles, including those carrying nuclear warheads. However, it does not cover air-launched or sea launched weapons.

Importance of the treaty:

Signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, it led to nearly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles being eliminated and an end to a dangerous standoff between US Pershing and cruise missiles and Soviet SS-20 missiles in Europe.

The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification.

As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

INF Treaty covers all types of ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles — whether their payload is conventional or nuclear. Moscow and Washington are prohibited from deploying these missiles anywhere in the world, not just in Europe.

The INF Treaty for years served to mitigate fears of both parties in relation to possibility of military escalation, operational miscalculation, and helping to shift the logic of MAD [mutually assured destruction] to the higher “more sensitive” political level.

What NOW:

  • It is unclear what INF-prohibited systems the United States could deploy to Europe or Asia in the near term.
    • The U.S. military has not developed any land-based missiles within the prohibited ranges for decades and has only just started funding a new ground-launched cruise missile to match the 9M729.
  • Moscow is in a very different position and could rapidly expand deployment.
  • Russia could also effectively reclassify the RS-26 Rubezh, an experimental system that has been tested just above the INF Treaty’s 5,500-kilometer limit.
    • To avoid violating the INF, Russian officials previously described the RS-26 as an intercontinental ballistic missile. However, it could form the basis for a missile of a slightly shorter range if Moscow wished to boost its INF forces — without counting it under the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, governing longer-range systems.

This move is also likely to undermine the 2010 New START treaty governing U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear systems.

The INF Treaty’s demise will undercut New START by reopening questions on the relationship between intermediate and strategic systems that have been resolved for 30 years by the elimination of ground-based, intermediate-range missiles.

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