Endangering a Landmark Nuclear Treaty

Official Washington’s political game of heightening tensions with nuclear-armed Russia to get better control of President Trump could destroy a landmark nuclear arms control treaty, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

On Aug. 3, President Trump told millions of Twitter followers to “thank Congress” for the fact that “our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low.” The immediate impetus for his remark was congressional passage of new economic sanctions against Russia, but Trump might just as well have pointed to moves by the body to jeopardize a landmark arms control treaty negotiated in 1987 by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

President Reagan meeting with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev at the Soviet Mission during the Geneva Summit in Switzerland, Nov.20, 1985. (Photo from Reagan presidential library)

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was remarkable for prohibiting an entire class of existing weapons, with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Ratified by the Senate in 1988, following one of the darkest periods of the Cold War, it led to the destruction of 2,700 missiles, both nuclear and conventional, over a period of about three years.

The treaty also opened the door to on-site inspections and other verification measures that made possible the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, under President George H.W. Bush. Greg Thielmann, a former top State Department intelligence official who advised on the INF treaty negotiations, has called its success “unprecedented” and “one of the world’s most dramatic achievements in curbing the nuclear arms race.”

Putting those great accomplishments at risk, the proposed new National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House in July, authorizes the development of a new land-based missile banned by the INF treaty. A companion Senate bill, which will be considered after the August recess, would fund initial Pentagon development of a similarly prohibited missile.

In each case, the real target of the new missiles proposed by congressional hawks like Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas isn’t any…

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