In Memoriam: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Dies at 32

In Memoriam: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Dies at 32

In Memoriam: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Dies at 32

The INF Treaty is survived by New START, but it too is in danger.


The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty succumbed to its injuries today. It was 32 years old.

Six months ago, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin put the INF Treaty on life support, and they could have resuscitated it at any time. Instead, they let the treaty expire.

The INF Treaty was conceived in the White House on December 8, 1987, and born seven months later to its proud guardians, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Almost immediately, it was obvious that this nuclear-weapons treaty was special. While many of its older siblings lacked ambition, the INF Treaty was bold and expansive. It required the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of missiles, and establish on-site inspection mechanisms.

 Within three short years, the INF Treaty led to the destruction of 2,700 missiles and banned either side from deploying new ones of that type. It reduced the threat of nuclear war, and would continue to do so long after Reagan and Gorbachev had moved on.

The latest heirs of the treaty, however, didn’t care for it the same way. Feeling slighted by the US decision to kill the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, Vladimir Putin took his frustrations out on the INF Treaty. In 2014, the United States publicly claimed that Putin had violated the terms of the treaty by building and deploying a prohibited type of missile. In retaliation, Putin fired off accusations of his own, dubiously claiming that the United States had also violated the treaty.

Over the years, arguments over the treaty flew back and forth, and eventually the living situation became untenable. This year, Trump gave up on the INF Treaty, opting to kill it instead of talking through his concerns with Putin. It appears that his decision was swayed by John Bolton—a known killer of arms-control deals. In February 2019, the United States officially suspended its INF Treaty obligations, and Russia followed suit the next day—triggering the six-month withdrawal process that led to the treaty’s death today.

During that six-month period, there was no attempt to save it. On Wednesday—just two days before its death—Trump and Putin spoke on the phone, but neither mentioned the INF Treaty.

In all likelihood, the death of the INF Treaty will jumpstart missile production on both sides. Putin has reportedly already deployed nearly a hundred INF-violating missiles within his territory, and the Trump administration plans to test an INF-violating missile of its own later this summer.

The INF Treaty will be missed; it helped keep us safe from nuclear war for 32 years. It is survived by only one other US-Russia nuclear weapons treaty—New START—which has capped US and Russian nuclear arsenals since 2011. If nothing is done, New START will expire in February 2021. Its life could be easily extended, but Bolton is advising against it.

If Trump allows New START to wither away as the INF Treaty did, in February 2021 there will be another obituary to write. And on that day, the world will enter a new era without any limitations on the two largest nuclear arsenals on the planet. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy