The United States will stop complying with a landmark nuclear pact with Russia as soon as this weekend after last-ditch talks with Moscow to save it fell flat, a senior U.S. arms control official said on Thursday.
The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as INF, bans the U.S. and Russia from having ground-launched missiles with ranges from 315 miles to 3,415 miles.
The move could lead to the U.S. developing new nuclear weapons of the type which were stationed in Europe in the 1980s to huge public controversy – and potentially stationing them on the continent again.
Leaving the treaty would also allow the U.S. to develop longer-range conventional land-based missiles than it currently has.
The treaty was signed in 1987 as a breakthrough in reducing nuclear tensions.
It banned all ground-based missiles, whether nuclear or conventional, which led to the U.S. getting rid of its nuclear land-based cruise and Pershing II missiles.
Their stationing in Europe was met by public protests and seen by the Soviets as an escalation of Cold War tensions.
Stumbling block: The Russian Novatar 9M729 ground-based cruise missile system is accused by the U.S. of breaching the INF treaty which Russia denies. The U.S. now says it will pull out of the treaty as soon as this weekend after talks to resolve the standoff failed
Pioneering moment: The INF was signed in 1987 by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan and banned ground-based cruise missiles with ranges from 315 miles to
The pact has stood since then but in 2017 the U.S. accused Russia of flouting the pact by developing and deploying a new nuclear missile with a range of 1,500 miles.
Russia denies that its Novator 9M729 is in breach of the treaty and claims that its range is within the pact’s limits at 300 miles, but the U.S. says that it has been test fired over the far longer range.
Russia accuses the U.S. of using the claims as a pretext to get out of the treaty and rejected demands to destroy its missile system.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson on Thursday held last-ditch talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Beijing ahead of the expiration of a U.S. 60-day deadline for Moscow to come back into compliance with the treaty.
The deadline expires on Saturday February 2.
Thompson and Ryabkov, who met on the sidelines of a ‘P5’ meeting of nuclear powers – the U.S, Russia, China, France and the UK – said afterwards that the two countries had failed to bridge their differences.
In an interview, Thompson said she expected Washington to now stop complying with the treaty as soon as this weekend, a move she said would allow the U.S. military to immediately begin developing its own longer-range missiles if it chose to do so, raising the prospect they could be deployed in Europe.
‘We´ll be able to do that (suspend our treaty obligations) on Feb. 2,’ Thompson told Reuters.
‘We’ll have an announcement made, follow all the steps that need to be taken on the treaty to suspend our obligations with the intent to withdraw.’
The formal withdrawal process, once announced, takes six months. Stopping compliance with the treaty would untie the U.S. military’s hands, she said.
‘We are then also able to conduct the R&D and work on the systems we haven’t been able to use because we’ve been in compliance with the treaty,’ said Thompson.
‘Come February 2, this weekend, if DoD (the U.S. Department of Defense) chooses to do that, they´ll be able to do that.’
Washington remained open to further talks with Moscow about the treaty regardless, she added.
Ryabkov said Moscow would continue working to try to reach agreement despite the failure of the talks, but accused Washington of ignoring Russian complaints about U.S. missiles and of adopting what he called a destructive position.
‘Unfortunately, there is no progress,’ Rybakov said.
Ryabkov called the US position ‘rather tough, ultimatum-like’ and ‘destructive,’ state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
‘We have not made any progress. We state this not just with sorrow, but with deep concern for the fate of the treaty, for the fate of European and international security,’ Ryabkov said.
During the conference with the other Security Council nations in Beijing, Ryabkov said bilateral dialogue was stalling on certain topics as one party was ‘intentionally’ refusing to pursue discussions – a thinly veiled reference to the United States.
At odds: Putin’s forces are accused by Trump’s administration of having a missile system which breaches the INF. Russia says it is a pretext for the U.S. quitting the treaty
‘Russia can’t be blamed for anything. We are always ready for dialogue on all topics, including the most difficult current issues, and to be fully transparent. We expect our partners to take the same approach,’ he said.
Last week the Russian military displayed the nuclear-capable 9M729 missile system to the media and foreign military officials in an attempt to prove the weapon does not violate the treaty.
Russia says the missile’s maximum range is 480 kilometers (300 miles) and within the allowed range.
Washington has however said a static display of the cruise missile does not prove its range does not breach the agreement.
It ended a dangerous build-up of warheads in Europe but there are fears a similar situation could re-emerge.
At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. had as many as 7,000 warheads deployed in Europe.
However the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington D.C. based think tank, now estimates that there are far fewer – 150 nuclear warheads, all of them on air-dropped unguided bombs.
They are held in Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands, the NTI reported.
The INF did not ban long-range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The U.S. has an arsenal of Minuteman missiles ready to launch from missile silos in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.
But Russian concerns center on the possibility of the U.S. using bases in Poland to deploy short- to medium-range nuclear missiles.
Poland has both asked the U.S. for a permanent presence, and allowed the U.S. to build a ground-based missile defense shield using Aegis technology.
BreakingDefense.com reported that the Russians have claimed that the Aegis firing mechanism is essentially the same as the one used to launch Tomahawk conventional missiles from shops, and could be adapted to be turned into an offensive rather than defensive system.
Russia itself has deployed short-range nuclear-capable rockets on its border with Poland in Kaliningrad. Their range of under 300 miles makes them compatible with the INF.
The other source of U.S. concern over the treaty has been that it allowed China to develop the missile systems.
HOW U.S. MISSILES LED TO PROTEST IN EUROPE IN THE 1980s – AND TOOK THE WORLD CLOSE TO THE NUCLEAR BRINK
Both the U.S. and the Soviets expected that if they went to war, Europe would be their battleground.
By the early 1980s, the U.S. under Ronald Reagan was outspending the Soviets and introducing dramatically improved new weapons in the air and on the ground.
In particular, the Soviet SS-20 medium-range nuclear missiles, launched from mobile carriers, were seen as the biggest threat to NATO forces if there were to be an exchange of weapons.
Nuclear missiles which could match their destructive power were a priority and the Pershing II was developed which could destroy underground bunkers and silos and reach Soviet territory in just six minutes – making them both undetectable and capable of largely killing off the Soviet ability to respond.
But moving the missiles into the places where they would be used in battle created a whole new dimension of conflict for the U.S. and its NATO allies – this time with peace protesters who made their deployment the focus of their rage.
Target: The land-based nuclear cruise missiles brought to the UK sparked public protests when they were deployed to the USAF base at Greenham Common west of London in 1983
Women’s protests: Women formed a peace camp at Greenham Common from the time it was identified as the host for the cruise and Pershing missiles and remained there long afterwards. In December 1982 one of their protests was a human chain around its perimeter
Blocking tactic: Anti nuclear protesters from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp tried to stop cruise missiles arriving by stopping access to its main gates
Beginning in 1983, two deployments in particular were to become infamous flashpoints.
In the UK, the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common, Berkshire, to the west of London, would be used for 160 medium-range nuclear cruise missiles, and a smaller number of Pershing II rockets.
In Germany, three bases – Neu-Ulm, Mutlangen and Neckarsulm – would receive a total of 108 Pershing IIs.
But in both countries the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament launched huge and widespread protests.
In Germany, Mutlangen became the focal point, while in Greenham Common, a peace camp of women against nuclear weapons sprang up at the perimeter. Attempts to move munitions were met with sit-down protests on roads outside.
In Bonn, then the capital of West Germany, as many as 400,000 people took part in one anti-Pershing protest, part of a day of demonstrations across Europe, while other protests saw a human chain from U.S. headquarters in Stuttgart to the gates of Mutlangen.
1983 also saw one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War when NATO’s Able Archer war games, which involved activating troops and giving dummy instructions to fire nuclear weapons, were misunderstood by the Soviets.
They thought the exercise was really preparations for a first strike with the new Pershing arsenal part of the plan.
The Soviets ordered its nuclear arsenal to be prepared for action and placed bombers on high alert.
If NATO forces under U.S. command had moved to an increased state of readiness, the Soviets could well have launched their own nuclear weapons.
Spy Oleg Gordiesky later wrote an account of the tense moments, which ended when Able Archer concluded on November 11 1983.
What peace protesters had not realized was that behind the scenes, the U.S. had made an offer in the late 1970s to the Soviets, that if it agreed to get rid of its SS-20s, the U.S, would withdraw the Pershings and the cruise missiles.
By 1986, the Soviet Union was lead by Mikhail Gorbachev, and a deal began to take shape.
By September 1987, there was a deal, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in Washington D.C. – the one whose future now appears doomed.