• Position : Analyst
  • Affiliation : Institute for International Studies MGIMO University
  • Position : Consultant
  • Affiliation : PIR Center
  • Position : Deputy Head of the Representative Office of Rossotrudnichestvo - Russian House in Bishkek
  • Affiliation : Rossotrudnichestvo
  • Position : Chairman of the Executive Board
  • Affiliation : PIR Center
complete list

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Two Minus One Equals Zero - US to Withdraw from INF Treaty


MOSCOW, OCTOBER 22, 2018. PIR PRESS. “Everything points to the fact that the New START will follow the fate of the INF Treaty, and the whole system of arms control will cease to exist. But I think it is not going to be like that for long. Sooner or later, the United States will come to the same conclusion they reached in the late 60s: when it comes to nuclear weapons, predictability is even more important than arms reductions. Considering that the United States and Russia already have experience in providing predictability in this area, it will be necessary to return to it,” – Gen. Evgeny Buzhinskiy, Chairman of the PIR Center Executive Board.

On October 20, US President Donald Trump declared the US withdrawal from the historical Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Today the INF Treaty represents just one of two agreements in the sphere of arms control remaining in effect between Russia and the United States. The second of the two, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), set to expire in 2021. If the treaty is not extended for another five years or replaced by a new agreement before its expiration, the arms control system will snap out of existence.

PIR Center requested its Advisory Board to comment on a few points. Can the United States indeed exit the INF Treaty? What will be the ramifications for Russian and global security? Are there any silver linings for Russia?

How seriously can we take the US declaration to exit the INF Treaty?

“John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, is currently lobbying for the US exit from INF and New START treaties. His primary function is interagency coordination. That is to say, his job is to make the work between the Pentagon, the State Department and the Intelligence Communities smooth around the edges. Yet here he is trying to define US foreign policy. I think there are plenty who would oppose this step, be it in the Pentagon and the State Department. Trump’s declaration won’t exactly be the end of the story,” – Evgeny Buzhinskiy, Chairman of the PIR Center Executive Board.

If the threat is real, how much time will the exit from the INF Treaty take? 

“There exists an exit procedure from the INF Treaty. An official notice of no later than six months is required to notify the other parties, but only in written form. Even if Bolton were to send word directly to Putin about the withdrawal, the Russian president would still reply stating that he’s waiting for an official notification. Following the end of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) the United States decided to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic. They tried desperately to convince Russia that their missile defense infrastructure in Europe was protection against Iran and not Russia. 

In a meeting in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and former State Department and Pentagon heads Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, it was declared that the United States was ready to maintain a 24-hour, 365-day a year presence of Russians in Poland to convince Russia of America’s dedication to its position. Putin asked for concrete details, but they were never provided. We will see how things go this time,” – Evgeny  Buzhinskiy. 

Could it have been possible to avoid the US exit from the INF Treaty? 

“In a situation where the United States has established itself as a global leader in technology and science, Russia is no longer considered a rival. To preserve its dominant position in the world, the United States has no need to bind itself to treaties, especially given its interest in medium-range missiles to deter China. They needed a special reason to exit the INF Treaty, and Russia gave them one. The point is not whether the accusations against Russia were fair. The point is that the Russian side has not taken enough measures to prove its case. I am certain all avenues to do so were not explored,” – Pavel Zolotaryev, Head for Research at the Institute for US and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Will Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine maintain their commitments to the INF Treaty after the US withdrawal? 

“For now, the treaty is multilateral, but it is difficult to imagine a situation where the United States withdraws, while Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine continue fulfilling its conditions,” – Andrey Baklitskiy, PIR Center Consultant. 

Can we expect the United States to develop new missiles after it withdraws from the INF Treaty? 

“At the moment, it is not clear what the United States intends to do. It’s one thing to withdraw from the treaty. To begin enacting the actions it prohibited is something entirely different. The United States has not voiced a plan on how it will continue work with short and medium-range missiles. It does currently have a program for the development of medium-range missiles, but judging from everything else, they do not intend to continue its development. It is clear the program was established as a means for antagonizing Russia. The United States will have to develop the rocket, but it is not clear how long the process will take: development and testing of the new missile takes money and time. All of this depends on budgetary processes and cycles in Washington. The Pentagon will also need to determine how to best utilize the new rocket into its concept on the use of force, given that the Nuclear Posture Review published in February 2018 says nothing about medium-range missiles. Likewise, there have been no talks about medium-range ballistic missiles in the United States. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that the United States may also want to receive them, but generally, the matter only regarded cruise missiles,” – Andrey Baklitskiy

From Russia's standpoint, what are the consequences of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty? 

“The consequences would depend on whether the United States will decide to deploy additional missiles in Europe – and if so, where they would place them. Right now, American officials are saying they have no such plans. It's doubtful that Western and Central European countries would let American missiles be deployed on their territories, but Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states easily might. If Americans deploy intermediate-range missiles in those countries, they will be taking another step towards confrontation,” – Evgeny Buzhinskiy

“From the point of view of regional security, disruption of the INF Treaty is dangerous to Russia since Ukraine still retains the potential to produce intermediate and short-range missiles and will no longer have constraints under the treaty. This may add further fuel to tensions between Russia, European countries and the United States,” – Evgeny Myasnikov, Member of the PIR Center Advisory Board

“The United States will not deploy additional missiles in Europe, as there is no need. But the US establishment thinks that the very threat of their ability to do so will have a deterrent effect on Russia. If you combine this situation with the uncertainty regarding the future of Ukraine and Georgia's membership in NATO, then not much good will come out of this [for Russia],” - Pavel Zolotaryev

Does the end of the INF Treaty open up new opportunities for Russia? 

“I don't think there are any new opportunities. Maybe the range of the Iskander can be increased from 500 to 1,000 kilometers. But the question of developing a new land-based missile is decided by money – Russia can't afford to manufacture these missiles in quantities comparable to the Americans. This is an expensive luxury. At the same time, the Russians already have a capacity in this area that the United States currently does not,” – Evgeny Buzhinskiy. 

“For Russia, all the objectives that the necessity for short and intermediate range missiles is predicated upon can be achieved by other means. Our actions in Syria demonstrate this. The preservation of the INF Treaty would be more important to us,” – Pavel Zolotaryev

“Collapse of the INF Treaty will not provide Russia with any brand new military or technical capabilities. It is doubtful that there currently exist objectives that the Russian military could not achieve without deploying land-based intermediate and short-range missiles. Whom would Russia need to deploy them against? Against Europe? The European countries, dependent on Russian energy supplies, are least of all interested in a military confrontation with Russia. Then against the countries located south of Russia? Today the biggest of them, China, India, Turkey, and Iran, are our partners, and they are buying newest Russian armaments and sometimes defense technologies,” – Evgeny Myasnikov

What are the consequences of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty from a global security standpoint? 

“Everything points to the fact that the New START will follow the fate of the INF Treaty, and the whole system of arms control will cease to exist. But I think it is not going to be like that for long. Sooner or later, the United States will come to the same conclusion they reached in the late 60s: when it comes to nuclear weapons, predictability is even more important than arms reductions. Considering that the United States and Russia already have experience in providing predictability in this area, it will be necessary to return to it,” – Evgeny Buzhinskiy

“The United States will deliver the most significant blow to global security, namely nuclear weapons and missile technology non-proliferation regimes. It's not a given that the United States, following the production of medium-range missiles, will station them in Europe, but there is a risk that they will be deployed in other regions, and those who are not allied with the United States will have to play it safe. Withdrawal from the treaty that eliminated a whole class of weapons is like a call for the rest: “Arm yourself!” Instead of continuing efforts towards disarmament, the United States will reverse the vector of arms control backward and increase the nuclear threat,” – Albert Zulkharneev, Director of the PIR Center

“Elimination of the INF Treaty is only the first step. Next will be the refusal to extend the New START. Implementation of the NPT is under threat. And all of this happens when, after the end of the cold war, three new states acquired nuclear weapons. Responsibility for the chaos in nuclear arms control system lies with the two leading nuclear powers. We have to search for a way out of the current situation,” – Pavel Zolotaryev

“The US withdrawal from the INF Treaty is one more step towards the destruction of the arms control architecture in a broad sense. It is not only about the nuclear weapons but in general the whole system of arms control,” – Evgeny Myasnikov

“The US withdrawal from the INF Treaty will impact not only strategic stability but also the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. If the previous 2015 review conference failed due to disagreement over a creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, then in 2020 extreme dissatisfaction with non-nuclear countries about the lack of progress in the field of disarmament will add to the mix. Confirmation that arms control will not only continue to exist but also will provide further reductions in nuclear weapons is expected from the United States and Russia. The chances that by 2020 it will be possible to somehow reconcile the nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon countries become marginal, and it will damage the entire nonproliferation regime,” – Adlan Margoev, director of the PIR Center “Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation” program

Can Russia try to save the INF Treaty by presenting new proposals on limiting intermediate and short-range missiles? 

“A few proposals have been presented so far to modify the treaty and limit the number of intermediate-range missiles instead of banning them completely. There have also been initiatives to make the INF “a treaty for Europe” and allow the deployment of missiles in other parts of the world. For now, this is nothing but a scholarly debate,” – Andrey Baklitskiy

Why not destroy the existing arms control system to build a new one that takes the latest technological advances into account? 

The idea “We will destroy all the world of violence completely, and then...” is well known, and, as the history shows, does not yield the expected results. The “Start from scratch” concept implies that the vast experience, that significant resources have been spent to accumulate it, will be irreversibly lost. That experience includes institutions who prepared arms control specialists, the links among experts from different countries that have been built for years and laid the ground for reaching new agreements. The existing level of trust between US and Russian politicians could not be worse, but the expert communities of both countries are continuing joint and persistent efforts to somehow improve the situation and save the INF Treaty. New arms control system will have to be created from scratch by bringing up new cadres, gradually gaining experience, and repeat the same mistakes. Over this period of time, however, life will move significantly forward. No doubt some provisions of the INF treaty became outdated, but this only means that the US and Russian technical experts should sit together and agree on the way to address the mutual concerns. If there was policial will, they would manage to resolve issues concerning attack drones, the anti-missiles in Romania, as well as the Russian missiles that allegedly violate the treaty," – Evgeny Myasnikov.

Please see also PIR Center’s selection of related materials on the INF Treaty and arms control (in Russian). 

For questions related to “Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation” program, please refer to Program Director Adlan Margoev by phone +7 (495) 987 1915 or by email [email protected]