Why Trump stepped out of the INF nuclear missile treaty

In early February, secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement with the Russian Federation.  The reason given was the flagrant violations of the treaty by Moscow since 2008.

So what's it all about?

The intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) covered by the treaty have a range of between 310 and 3,420 miles.  These missiles and launchers fall between tactical ballistic missiles, which have a range of less than 190 miles and are designed for battlefield use, and the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) for strategic use.  Intermediate-range missiles give one side a distinct advantage in flexibility if the other side is without them.

In withdrawing from the INF, Pompeo stated what should be obvious: "We can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it."  He added that the U.S. will terminate the agreement in six months unless the Russians destroy their arsenal of intermediate-range missiles and launchers.

The general reaction in Western Europe to this move is unfavorable.  Although the Europeans are in agreement that Russia has long violated the treaty, they are upset that the White House acted unilaterally.  The hope in Europe is that the treaty can be salvaged by bringing Russia into compliance.  For now, NATO is officially backing the Trump administration's play.  The alliance's political decision-making body said the allies "fully support" the American decision to suspend its obligations under the treaty.

There's an elephant in the room on this story that cannot be neglected.  It's China.  In a series of public and private comments by President Trump and other officials, the administration has made it clear that the U.S. would be interested in reviving the INF, but only if all countries that now field such weapons are willing to curb or eliminate them.  The current treaty applies only to Russia and the United States.  This would require China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea to sign on to the same agreement.  Talk about "Mission: Impossible."

Perhaps the best take on America's withdrawal from the INF comes from Anatoly Karlin, writing in Strategic Culture:

Because at the end of the day, rhetoric to the contrary, nobody really cares about the INF Treaty within Europe. Force levels on both sides of the border between the West and Russia — which has moved 1,000-1,500 km to the east, in large part thanks to NATO's broken promises not to expand — are at a small fraction of Cold War levels. Few seriously believe that Russia has any territorial designs on the Baltics, and even on the off chance that it does, it's not like the 9M729 is going to make any cardinal difference.

However, it is with respect to the balance of power in the West Pacific that the restrictions imposed by the INF on the US — but not on China — come into play.

Following up on that last comment, ZeroHedge adds:

It has long been obvious that the US (correctly) regards China as the real long-term threat to its global hegemony. Meanwhile, Russia is a mere nuisance, a "dying bear" that is ever approaching collapse, in the wake of which Moscow will have no choice but to sign up to America's China containment project. ... In this context, withdrawal from the INF Treaty — with Russia's alleged violations as pretext — is just the logical next step to the military component of Obama's "pivot to Asia", one that the US is entirely happy to continue and follow through with. It really is as banal as that.

Simply put, the U.S. will not allow China to be unconstrained while the U.S. is.  Withdrawing from the INF treaty gives "the U.S. and her allies in the Pacific the opportunity to greatly complicate the Chinese military calculus by fielding a new U.S. force of land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with conventional warheads."

Doing so would greatly increase the uncertainty for the Chinese in judging the outcome of any planned military competition.  At the same time, the ability to field new conventional missile capabilities could also provide the occasion, as during the Reagan era, to create a dynamic that leads to substantive negotiations with the Chinese with the desired result of reducing their inventory of conventional missiles in exchange for halting any deployment of new U.S. conventional land-based missiles.

What a difference it makes having a president who puts America first in word and deed and who at the same time can think ahead.

In early February, secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement with the Russian Federation.  The reason given was the flagrant violations of the treaty by Moscow since 2008.

So what's it all about?

The intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) covered by the treaty have a range of between 310 and 3,420 miles.  These missiles and launchers fall between tactical ballistic missiles, which have a range of less than 190 miles and are designed for battlefield use, and the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) for strategic use.  Intermediate-range missiles give one side a distinct advantage in flexibility if the other side is without them.

In withdrawing from the INF, Pompeo stated what should be obvious: "We can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it."  He added that the U.S. will terminate the agreement in six months unless the Russians destroy their arsenal of intermediate-range missiles and launchers.

The general reaction in Western Europe to this move is unfavorable.  Although the Europeans are in agreement that Russia has long violated the treaty, they are upset that the White House acted unilaterally.  The hope in Europe is that the treaty can be salvaged by bringing Russia into compliance.  For now, NATO is officially backing the Trump administration's play.  The alliance's political decision-making body said the allies "fully support" the American decision to suspend its obligations under the treaty.

There's an elephant in the room on this story that cannot be neglected.  It's China.  In a series of public and private comments by President Trump and other officials, the administration has made it clear that the U.S. would be interested in reviving the INF, but only if all countries that now field such weapons are willing to curb or eliminate them.  The current treaty applies only to Russia and the United States.  This would require China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea to sign on to the same agreement.  Talk about "Mission: Impossible."

Perhaps the best take on America's withdrawal from the INF comes from Anatoly Karlin, writing in Strategic Culture:

Because at the end of the day, rhetoric to the contrary, nobody really cares about the INF Treaty within Europe. Force levels on both sides of the border between the West and Russia — which has moved 1,000-1,500 km to the east, in large part thanks to NATO's broken promises not to expand — are at a small fraction of Cold War levels. Few seriously believe that Russia has any territorial designs on the Baltics, and even on the off chance that it does, it's not like the 9M729 is going to make any cardinal difference.

However, it is with respect to the balance of power in the West Pacific that the restrictions imposed by the INF on the US — but not on China — come into play.

Following up on that last comment, ZeroHedge adds:

It has long been obvious that the US (correctly) regards China as the real long-term threat to its global hegemony. Meanwhile, Russia is a mere nuisance, a "dying bear" that is ever approaching collapse, in the wake of which Moscow will have no choice but to sign up to America's China containment project. ... In this context, withdrawal from the INF Treaty — with Russia's alleged violations as pretext — is just the logical next step to the military component of Obama's "pivot to Asia", one that the US is entirely happy to continue and follow through with. It really is as banal as that.

Simply put, the U.S. will not allow China to be unconstrained while the U.S. is.  Withdrawing from the INF treaty gives "the U.S. and her allies in the Pacific the opportunity to greatly complicate the Chinese military calculus by fielding a new U.S. force of land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with conventional warheads."

Doing so would greatly increase the uncertainty for the Chinese in judging the outcome of any planned military competition.  At the same time, the ability to field new conventional missile capabilities could also provide the occasion, as during the Reagan era, to create a dynamic that leads to substantive negotiations with the Chinese with the desired result of reducing their inventory of conventional missiles in exchange for halting any deployment of new U.S. conventional land-based missiles.

What a difference it makes having a president who puts America first in word and deed and who at the same time can think ahead.