As Russia continues to outmaneuver the US by developing new ballistic missiles like the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, as well as hypersonic weapons capable of carrying a nuclear payload, President Trump said Saturday that he plans to abandon a 1987 arms-control treaty that has (on paper, at least) prohibited the US and Russia from deploying intermediate-range nuclear missiles as Russia has continued to "repeatedly violate" its terms according to the president, the Associated Press reports.
"We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement,” Trump said Saturday after a campaign rally in Elko, Nevada. “We’re going to terminate the agreement."
In a report that undoubtedly further complicated John Bolton's weekend trip to Moscow, the Guardian revealed on Friday that the national security advisor - in what some described as an overreach of the position's typical role - had been pushing Trump to abandon the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The announcement comes after the U.S. had been warning Russia it could resort to strong countermeasures unless Moscow complies with international commitments to arms reduction under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a pact struck in the 1980s.
When first signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev following their historic 1986 meeting, the INF was touted as an important deescalation of tensions between the two superpowers. But it has since become a flashpoint in the increasingly strained relationship between the US and Russia, as both sides have accused the other of violating its terms.
But for the US, Russia is only part of the problem.
The New York Times reported that the pact has limited the US from deploying weapons to counter the burgeoning military threat posed by China in the Western Pacific, where the country has ignored claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea and transformed reefs into military bases. And since China was never a party to the treaty, Beijing can hardly cry foul when the US decides to withdrawal, especially because Russia is already openly using the treaty as toilet paper.
Speaking at a rally in Elko Nevada, President Trump accused Russia of violating the agreement and said he didn't want to leave the US in a position where Russia would be free to "go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to."
"Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years," Trump said after a rally in Elko, Nevada. "And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to."
Therefore, unless both Russia and China - which isn't a party to the pact - agree to not develop these weapons, the US would be remiss to continue abiding by the terms of the agreement.
"We’ll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable," he said.
While the decision to abandon this treaty - which doesn't bode well for negotiations to extend the New START treaty after it expires in 2021 - carries serious weight, many Americans and Russians, having never lived through a war, might remain ignorant to the potential consequences, as one analyst opined.
"We are slowly slipping back to the situation of cold war as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, with quite similar consequences, but now it could be worse because (Russian President Vladimir) Putin belongs to a generation that had no war under its belt," said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent Russian political analyst. "These people aren’t as much fearful of a war as people of Brezhnev’s epoch. They think if they threaten the West properly, it gets scared."
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to try and get in front of the US's decision to leave this week when he declared that Russia would abide by a policy of nonaggression regarding its nuclear arsenal, agreeing only to use its nuclear weapons if it is attacked first.
Although some inside the Pentagon are reportedly wary of abandoning the treaty, Putin's word is hardly enough to reassure uberhawks like Bolton because the fact remains that if Russia did decide to use any of the array of nuclear arms that it is currently developing, there would be nothing stopping it. And with the US already behind in its push to manufacture advanced weapons like hypersonic missiles, any obstacles to deploying these types of weapons will only serve to weaken the US and strengthen its geopolitical adversaries.
Watch President Trump's remarks from the rally below: