USA on verge of abandoning another key arms control agreement

Today, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally gave notice of America’s intention to withdraw from one of the last major nuclear arms control treaties, citing Russian cheating as the reason. Under the terms of the Treaty, the withdrawal will take effect in 6 months. Coming a day after important new developments in EU efforts to counter America’s unilateral violation of the Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo appeared oblivious to the glaring hypocrisy of his opening words:

Countries must be held accountable when they break the rules.

Although NATO expressed “full support” for the USA action, the Organization continues to affirm the value of the Treaty itself. In their statement issued on 1 February, they declare:

Allies are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation. Therefore, we will continue to uphold, support, and further strengthen arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation, as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security, taking into account the prevailing security environment.

However much they may appear united, however, one thing is certain — were the USA to try and introduce new intermediate range missiles in Europe, they would face an uphill battle. In the words of author and researcher, James J. Cameron:

There is little desire for a new arms race in Europe, and few NATO countries are likely to want to host any new U.S. systems.

Many analysts believe that China is the real concern, because they are not bound by the Treaty’s limitations.  However, even security analysts who also worry about China do not necessarily agree that new intermediate-range nuclear systems are the answer. See for example: Leaving INF Treaty Won’t Help Trump Counter China (Prannay Vaddi,, 31 January 2019).

Given the very real political and military challenges, strategic risks, and unanswered fiscal and capability questions, it is not clear that the United States should pursue [groundbased intermediate-range systems] GBIRs.*

For an analysis of the many alarming developments in nuclear armaments in addition to INF abrogation, see: Nuclear threat grows as US prepares to withdraw from INF Treaty (John Letman,, 29 January 2019).

This growth of newer, faster, more complicated systems, the modernization of nuclear and conventional weapons, and the deterioration of arms-control treaties like the INF, stand in sharp contrast to the low level of awareness of the threats by the American public, which is largely ignorant about nuclear issues, according to Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Whither Canada?

On 24 January 2019, members of Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention — comprising over 1000 Order of Canada recipients — wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau, referencing:

the Government of Canada’s inexplicable silence in the face of the Trump Administration’s threat to abandon the Treaty.

They then went on to urge the Government, in the strongest possible terms, to:

call on Russia and the United States directly to take advantage of the Treaty’s special verification commission, along with other diplomatic avenues, to address their current and serious compliance concerns, and to call on the international community more broadly to consider ways and means of bringing other states with intermediate-range nuclear weapons, such as China, into the Treaty.

For the full text of the letter click here.

Regrettably, Foreign Minister Freeland has now moved from silence to full-throated support for the American action. See: Canada echoes NATO, blames Russia for U.S. pullout from nuclear treaty (James McCarten, Canadian Press, 1 February 2019).

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons.

* This article is also an incredible example of the prevailing security mindset that no matter how many more weapons you have than the other side, they are still not enough.

Tags: Canada, China, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, INF Treaty, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, NATO, Nuclear disarmament, Nuclear weapons, Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, United States