Rebecca Grant: Trump right to pull out of nuke arms control treaty after Russian violations

A nuclear arms control treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 came to a sad and scary end Friday when the U.S. withdrew from the pact – but don’t blame President Trump. Russia has been violating the agreement for years, so Trump did the right thing by formally killing it.

The U.S. officially confirmed for the first time Friday that Russia has not only violated the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – it has already fielded multiple battalions of the treaty-breaking 9M729 missiles.

On top of this, China never signed the INF Treaty. In the years since Reagan and Gorbachev signed the pact, China has been piling up intermediate-range missiles unconstrained by any deal.  China today has a far more powerful military than it had in 1987, so it doesn’t make sense any longer to exclude it from arms control treaties.


The signing of the INF Treaty 32 years ago was a golden moment of goodwill that made Europe safer and helped bring about the end of the Cold War. The U.S. gave up 846 ground-launched missiles armed with nuclear warheads and the Soviet Union did away with 1,846. It was a good deal for both sides.


Unfortunately, Russia and China decided to accelerate their military build-ups and debut many new types of maneuverable conventional and nuclear missiles in the years since. President Trump would be foolish to close his eyes to this build-up and pretend it wasn’t happening.


The facts are chilling. Russia has been breaking the INF Treaty for years longer than suspected, U.S. officials revealed. Design and testing of the noncompliant 9M729 missile started in the mid-2000s.

Russia blew off President Barack Obama’s warning letter to President Vladimir Putin back in 2014 calling on Russia to comply with the treaty. But Obama stayed with a one-sided treaty, restricting the U.S. missile program while Russia ignored restrictions and China was not bound by them.

Russia blew off President Barack Obama’s warning letter to President Vladimir Putin back in 2014 calling on Russia to comply with the treaty. But Obama stayed with a one-sided treaty, restricting the U.S. missile program while Russia ignored restrictions and China was not bound by them.  

Russia mixed in the 9M729 batteries with look-alike short-range Iskander missile batteries in the Kaliningrad enclave near the Baltics. Now the missiles are likely pointed at American troops in Poland and can reach other U.S. and allied bases in NATO member nations.

NATO nations are fully in agreement with President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, concurring that the treaty has been rendered meaningless by Russia’s violations.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed that NATO support, saying: “The United States greatly appreciates the steadfast cooperation and resolve NATO allies have shown in responding to Russia’s violation.”

Putin very deliberately cast away the INF Treaty. For him, this is personal. He hated seeing Warsaw Pact countries – where he’d spent time as a young KGB officer – joining up with NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When the U.S. began helping Poland and Romania build missile detection systems to counter Iran, Putin went bananas. He accused America of secretly installing an offensive missile system with the potential to be used to strike Russia, and ramped up new Russian weapons development.

Withdrawal from the INF Treaty was no impulsive act by President Trump. Secretary Pompeo did this by the book. Russia got a 60-day notice in December 2018 and a six-month notice in February.

“Russia has developed and fielded a missile system which violates the INF Treaty,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted in December. “NATO allies call on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance.”

Instead, Russia tried months ago to slither out of the treaty on a bizarre technicality. Russia’s general in charge of rocket forces and artillery told reporters on Jan. 23 that the SSC-8/9M729 missile had been tested from 2008 to 2014 but never flew more than 490 kilometers from its mobile launcher.

But U.S. intelligence had already caught Russia testing the 9M729 at Kasputin Yar at distances well over 500 kilometers – but from a different, fixed launcher.

The Russians had an excuse – though it was pretty lame. Since Russia deployed the 9M729 missile only with the mobile launcher, not the fixed launcher, the Russians said this was not a violation of the INF Treaty.

NATO didn’t buy that tall tale.

In June, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg gave Russia one last chance. Putin rejected it.

“We have to be prepared for a world … with more Russian missiles,” Stoltenberg told the BBC July 18.

Putin’s plans get uglier from here on out.

Russia “would do everything to penetrate this shield” of U.S. missile defenses, Putin told Chris Wallace of Fox News in Helsinki last year.

Putin has boasted of a “Skyfall” nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range. Russia has Kinzhal hypersonic missiles deployed on some MiG-31K fighter units and Putin announced plans to integrate it on the Su-57 stealthy fighter, too. The list goes on.

Then there’s China. Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is glad to be “unburdened” by the INF Treaty. He says 80 percent of China’s conventional missiles fall in the treaty-limit category. That’s a development no one foresaw in 1987.

Expect the U.S. Army to move fast to modify existing launchers so they can deploy more missiles in the Pacific. Esper wants it done in months if possible.

The Army desperately needs more firepower in the Pacific to protect troops, bases and Navy ships. With the right networks in place, U.S. and allied aircraft and ships can track a Chinese ship, aircraft or missile and then hand off to Army missiles to shoot if necessary. The multi-domain capability will enhance deterrence.

Arms control advocates, don’t despair. Trump wants to reach a landmark nuclear arms control deal down the road with both Russia and China. It’s the ultimate arms control deal, after all.


Trump said Friday that he’s talked with Putin and with China. Putin maintains Russia will sign an agreement anytime to continue the New START arms control treaty, due for renewal in 2021. We’ll see.

It’s too bad Putin violated the INF Treaty. But now America must look after the interests of our military forces and allies.