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US to formally withdraw from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

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US to formally withdraw from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

inf treaty withdrawal
Photo: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

The US will today officially withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), six months after President Donald Trump suspended Washington’s observance of the arms control pact.

The INF took effect in 1988, banning Russian and American ground-based nuclear missiles and launchers with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. Washington has alleged Russian non-compliance for the last decade, pointing to multiple tests of missiles within the banned range.

Recently, the US has opposed bilateral nuclear deals that only apply to the US and Russia. Mr Trump has been outspoken on the fact that China—a growing nuclear power and American geopolitical rival—is not bound by the INF or other similar arms control agreements.

Beijing has indicated no intention of entering negotiations with Washington, and the Trump administration may move away from other deals as a result. For example, if re-elected, President Trump could use the same reasoning to withdraw from New START in 2021—another Cold War-era treaty that limits offensive nuclear missile launchers.

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Given that Russia likely already possesses intermediate-range ground missiles, per US intelligence, Washington may be forced to counter, given its withdrawal from the INF. Defence competition between the world’s two largest nuclear powers could be set to increase in the medium-term, ironically encouraging China, among others, to step up its nuclear weapons development, as well.

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