Foreign Policy

Aiming for a Better Nuclear Deal With Russia

Moscow is routinely cheating and President Trump has had enough of the farce.

Lewis Morris · Oct. 23, 2018

President Donald Trump announced last weekend that the U.S. is prepared to walk out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of longstanding non-compliance by Russia. The treaty, signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the former Soviet Union, eliminated an entire class of ground-launched cruise or ballistic missile with ranges between 300 to 3,400 miles. But Russia has been cheating, and Trump’s fed up with it.

Russia immediately responded. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said leaving the treaty “would be a very dangerous step.” President Vladimir Putin added, “Our response would be immediate — I would like to repeat this warning — immediate and reciprocal.”

The U.S. first accused Russia of cheating on the agreement back in 2014, with the Obama administration noting in annual reports that Russia was developing prohibited weapons. Russia routinely denied the charges, claiming that its super powerful, awesome military has plenty of air- and sea-based weapons to make up for the lack of land-based cruise missiles.

Russia has never been trustworthy in this regard, either with its stated intentions or its capabilities, preferring to use the power of mystery to keep its opponents off balance. But last year’s identification of a cruise missile deployed in Russia called the SSC-8 that could threaten NATO in the Baltics proves Russia is up to its old tricks.

And so, apparently, is the American Left, which naturally claimed that pulling out of the INF Treaty was a bad idea and could spark a new arms race. This view was echoed by many allies in Europe. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Trump’s announcement was “regrettable,” and called the INF treaty “an important pillar of our European security architecture for 30 years.” And the European Commission huffed in a statement, “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”

Great Britain, however, voiced full-throated support of Trump’s statement, precisely because it isn’t Trump bringing instability but Putin.

Trump told reporters last weekend, “If Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement — that’s unacceptable.”

By mentioning China, Trump indicated that he is open to scrapping the INF and making a new treaty that would include all three countries. China was not a member of the original treaty, but it has since become a major military power in the Pacific. Getting China to be answerable to an international agreement may have a stabilizing force in that region. That’s also why Beijing is unlikely to sign on.

In the long run, we may be seeing yet another instance where Trump is prepared to scrap an established piece of the old world order to create something more lasting and better for America. He has gotten a lot of press for walking away from deals that don’t benefit the U.S. — the Iran nuclear agreement, the Paris climate accord, NAFTA. But he does so knowing that there is something better that can be done.

A new nuclear-forces agreement that is stronger on compliance and includes the world’s major nuclear powers would be a worthy replacement to the INF Treaty, particularly since the old treaty isn’t working.

The return of all this Cold War bluster makes one wonder, if the Russians really did want Trump to win the presidency in 2016 — a dubious proposition in any case — they sure must be regretting it now.

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