The United States and Russian Federation have withdrawn their commitments to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, which is an arms control measure between the two nuclear superpowers, according to the Washington Post. Speaking to Russia’s Federal Assembly on February 20, President Vladimir Putin addressed the U.S. withdrawal. He made it clear that if the U.S. deploys nuclear weapons to European countries bordering Russia, he will not hesitate to place nuclear weapons off the coast of the United States.
The INF Treaty was originally produced and signed by former President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. According to the Arms Control Association, the treaty required both global powers to eliminate and permanently give up all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. This lead to a total of 2,692 short-intermediate range missiles being dismantled by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.
The demise of the treaty was triggered by the Trump Administration’s withdrawal following several accusations that Moscow had breached its parameters. ARS Technica reports that U.S. intelligence has gathered evidence that Russia’s DSC-8 modification of a sea-launched cruise missile can reach ranges of up to 1,500 miles. The INF Treaty restricts any mobile launchers to have a maximum range of 600 miles.
Additionally, Russian representatives have justified their withdrawal from the treaty by pointing to the U.S. Aegis Ashore systems, which are antiballistic missile installations that the United States has in Romania and Poland. Though these systems are currently not operational, Moscow claims the U.S. is still able to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles from these sites, although the missiles were retired from service under the Obama Administration.
The Washington Post reports that one catalyzing factor for both sides was China’s ability to grow and maintain a nuclear arsenal, whereas the U.S. and Russia were unable to do so under the treaty. The nullification of the INF Treaty allows both powers to ensure their own capacities are to the same standard as China. Currently, both Washington D.C. and Moscow have six months to negotiate new terms until both sides fully withdraw from their obligations to the treaty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged the “mutual complaints by both sides and different approaches to problems” while also firmly stating that, “there is no reason for aggravating the [circumstances] to the level of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1960.”. He has also made it clear that he does not want the U.S. to be surprised by Russia’s “defensive reactions” if the U.S. chooses to place weapons along The Russian border.
Russia’s most dangerous development is the “Poseidon” nuclear torpedo, reports Business Insider. This 80 foot-long, two megaton underwater missile can travel upwards of 127 miles per hour and carries a nuclear payload as its main weapon. Stephen Schwartz, the author of “Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons since 1940,” discussed Poseidon’s capabilities of “sucking up dirt, or water, and contaminating it with debris from the bomb, and then lofting it into the atmosphere.” This radioactive atmosphere could linger for decades, making the effects far worse than what was seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In addition to this devastating weapon, Moscow is known to be developing the Bruevestnik cruise missile and a hypersonic missile dubbed Avangard. This hypersonic missile is designed to skip and glide through the atmosphere at speeds greater than Mach 20. U.S. defense officials have confirmed a similar project being worked on, but have cited concerns over how much further along the Russian program is.
The fallout of this treaty comes during a time when relations between the two superpowers remain under the international spotlight. While the United States deals with the fallout of possible Russian interference and collusion with the Trump administration during the 2016 election, President Putin continues to push back on American aggression against Syria’s Assad regime. If both parties are unable to find a compromise before the six month deadline, the likelihood of a Cold War era nuclear race may become inevitable.