WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Saturday he would pull out of a Cold-War era treaty with Russia that limited the number of missiles in each country.
Trump said Moscow had violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and he would halt the agreement.
“We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump said when leaving a rally in Nevada Saturday afternoon. He said the U.S. would pull out “and then we are going to develop the weapons” unless Russia and China agree to a new deal, though China isn’t currently a party of the agreement.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years,” the president said. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.”
Trump made the revelation as his National Security Adviser John Bolton was headed to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. His first stop is scheduled in Moscow, where he’ll meet with Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
For most of the Cold War, U.S.-Russian summits were dominated by the issue of nuclear weapons, with Presidents Nixon, Carter and Reagan reaching a series of incremental agreements to limit the number, size and location of each side’s nuclear arsenal.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was one of those agreements and is set to expire in the next two years. The 1987 pact helps protect the security of the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East.
It prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. It also covers all land-based missiles, including those carrying nuclear warheads.
Trump’s announcement drew the ire of anit-nuclear proliferation groups like the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”
In a statement, ICAN Director Beatrce Fihn condemned the move.
“By declaring he will leave the INF Treaty, President Trump has shown himself to be a demolition man who has no ability to build real security.,” Fihn said. “Instead, by blowing up nuclear treaties he is taking the US down a trillion dollar road to a new nuclear arms race.”
“The INF Treaty likely has entered its final days. That’s unfortunate,” said Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Pifer, writing about the news in a piece for the Brookings Institution said Trump’s decision means that the U.S. would be blamed for pulling out of an agreement that aimed to make the world a safer place.
The landmark treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan, helped lead to the destruction of thousands of missiles and simmered tensions during the Cold War.
But for years, the U.S. has accused Russia of violating it and rapidly expanding and advancing its weapons stockpile. Meanwhile, Trump says the U.S. is constrained because of the agreement, preventing the nation from catching up.
The Defense Department in February described some of Russia’s advancements in a report, which also called for the U.S. to develop two new additional nuclear weapons to keep other world powers, including China, at bay.
One of the weapons the Defense Department said Russia was creating was an intercontinental nuclear-armed torpedo that can travel thousands of miles and strike U.S. coastal cities with minimal warning.
Called the “Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System,” the Russian torpedo is reported to be able to deliver a thermonuclear cobalt bomb of up to 100 megatons. The weapon could trigger a tsunami wave of radioactive water that would blanket a coastal city. Politicians have called the torpedo a “doomsday” weapon.
The president said the advancements, including those by China, were “unacceptable.”
“We’ll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Trump said.
The president continued, explaining he would gladly stay in the pact but if “as long as somebody’s violating the agreement, we’re not going to be the only ones to adhere to it.”
The issue, Pifer said, is that if the U.S. pulls out of the treaty, there is no reason for Russia to halt creating and testing new weapons. He said negotiations and pushing Russia’s compliance were needed.
“So, U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is a loser all around,” he said. “Russian officials probably are celebrating the news.”
Trump made the announcement Saturday following a campaign stop in Elko, Nevada.
National Security Adviser John Bolton was headed Saturday to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.