Losing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty could lead to destabilising changes in American, Russian and European forces and doctrines.

If the disagreements between Russia and the United States over compliance with the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF Treaty) cannot be resolved, there is a risk that it will be abandoned. While the agreement is of indefinite duration, the parties to it have the right to withdraw if they decide that extraordinary events related to its subject matter jeopardise key national interests. The notice period prior to withdrawal is only six months, so the treaty could be lost very quickly.1

The INF Treaty obligated Russia (and certain other successor states to the Soviet Union in which missiles subject to the treaty were located) and the United States to eliminate their stockpiles of intermediate-range and shorter-range ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. The parties also pledged not to possess such systems in the future. The treaty’s definitions of intermediate-range nuclear forces meant the elimination of around 2,700 cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres by May 1991.2

The main responsibility for the future of the INF Treaty rests with Russia and the United States. However, the impact of losing the treaty would be felt more widely – not least in Europe, where the production and deployment of a new generation of ballistic and cruise missiles could (depending on type) bring almost all countries within range.

After 2013, the United States raised compliance concerns, alleging that Russia was violating its treaty obligation not to possess, produce or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500–5,500km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles. Russia has made counter-allegations: that the US has violated the treaty by moving shipborne missile launchers capable of firing cruise missiles within the INF range parameters ashore, and by arming certain unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in ways that meet the INF definition of a cruise missile.

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Ian Anthony is European Security Programme Director at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

December 2017–January 2018

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