Monday 26 August 2019

US pulls out of landmark Cold War nuclear deal with Russia

THE NUCLEAR OPTION: The 1987 deal being signed by Gorbachev and Reagan. Photo: AFP/Getty
THE NUCLEAR OPTION: The 1987 deal being signed by Gorbachev and Reagan. Photo: AFP/Getty

Steve Holland

The United States yesterday withdrew from a landmark Soviet era nuclear missile pact with Russia - accusing the Kremlin of violating the treaty.

Moscow has denied breaching the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) deal, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987.

And it claimed the move was a ploy for the US to exit a pact it wanted to leave anyway in order to develop new missiles.

The INF banned both sides from having land-based missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500km in Europe, reducing their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

"The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement about the US withdrawal.

"Russia's non-compliance under the treaty jeopardises US supreme interests as Russia's development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the US and our allies and partners."

Senior Washington officials said Russia had deployed a new type of cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the pact. Missile sites in western Russia gave it the ability to strike critical European targets, they claimed.

Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile's range puts it outside the treaty.

It has rejected a US demand to destroy the new missile, the Novator 9M729, known as the SSC-8 by Nato countries.

Moscow has also told Washington its decision to quit the pact undermines global security and removes a key pillar of international arms control.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia does not want an arms race and he has promised he will not deploy missiles unless the US does so first.

However, should Washington take such a step, he says, he would be forced to deploy Russian hypersonic nuclear missiles on ships or subs near US territorial waters.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Russia's moratorium request, saying it was "not a credible offer" since Moscow had already deployed illegal missiles.

"There are no new US missiles, no new Nato missiles in Europe, but there are more and more new Russian missiles," he said.

The dispute is aggravating the worst US-Russia friction since the Cold War ended.

Nato said yesterday it had agreed a defensive package of measures to deter Russia. That response would be measured and only involve conventional weapons, it added.

Nato members Britain and Poland blamed Moscow for the INF treaty's demise.

"Their contempt for the rules-based international system threatens European security," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter.

European officials fear that if the treaty collapses, Europe could again become an arena for an intermediate-range nuclear missile build-up by the US and Russia.

The US says it is months away from the first flight tests of an intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians.

Any deployment would be years away, officials added. "We are just at the stage of looking at how we might further the development of conventional options," one said.

President Trump has said he would like a "next-generation" arms control deal with Russia and China to cover all types of nuclear weapons, something Beijing has so far rejected.

Irish Independent

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