Donald Trump likes to shoot from the hip. It has helped him consolidate domestic support, bring North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table, and has led America’s main strategic rival – China – to reassess how it engages with Washington. When it comes to fragile international treaties, however, Trump’s unpredictability is dangerous. His announcement that the US intends to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is a case in point.
At the height of the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union agreed to ban all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges, between 500km (310 miles) and 5,500km (3,418 miles). The INF Treaty, signed by US President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev, resulted in the destruction of 2,692 missiles as well as their launchers. It ended a dangerous standoff in Europe between US Pershing and cruise missiles and Soviet SS-20 missiles, and dramatically eased tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Suspicions that Russia is violating the Treaty are at least a decade old. In 2008, US intelligence first suspected Moscow of developing a prohibited ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missile. In 2014, President Obama alerted Western allies to Russia’s testing of this. Rather than withdraw from the Treaty, his administration sought to bring Russia back into compliance.
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