This article was originally published by The Hill.
It would be a mistake of significant proportions for the U.S. to unilaterally withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It would end an important arms limitation treaty, one that eliminated a whole category of nuclear-armed missiles with a range from 500 km to 5,500 km.
The treaty eliminated 846 U.S. nuclear missiles and 1,846 Soviet nuclear missiles, for a combined total of 2,692 nuclear missiles. President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty in 1987. It was an agreement that followed their realization, “A nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought.”
Fast forward to President Trump and his national security advisor, John Bolton announcing their intention to jettison the treaty that ended the Cold War; took Europe out of the cross-hairs of nuclear war; and allowed for major reductions in nuclear arms.
After the signing of the INF Treaty, the two countries moved steadily downward from a high of 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world to less than 15,000 today. While this is still far too many, it was at least movement in the right direction.
The withdrawal of the U.S. from the INF Treaty will reverse the progress made by the treaty over the past 30 years. It could restart the Cold War between Russia and the U.S.; reinstate a nuclear arms race; further endanger Europe; and make nuclear war more likely.
Why would Trump do this? He claims that Russia has cheated on the agreement, but that is far from clear, and U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would leave Russia and the U.S. free to develop and deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles without any constraints. Surely, that would be a far worse option for the U.S. and the world. Instead of withdrawal, the U.S. and Russia should resume negotiations to resolve any concerns on either side.
This is the latest important international agreement that Trump has unwisely sought to disavow. Other agreements that he has pulled out of include the Paris accords on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial concluded: “On too many occasions this administration has acted impulsively on the world stage and scrambled to contain the damage later. Trashing the INF Treaty would be another such blunder. The president should pull back from the precipice.”
However, since Trump operates in his own egocentric universe, it is doubtful that he even recognizes that his actions are moving the world closer to the nuclear precipice. With his deeply irrational and erratic leadership style, he is demonstrating yet again why nuclear weapons remain an urgent and ultimate danger to us all. He inadvertently continues to make the case for delegitimizing and banning these instruments of mass annihilation.