Sunday, December 16, 2018
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Trump’s Withdrawal from U.S.-Russia INF Treaty Could Ignite New Nuclear Arms Race

Interview with John Burroughs, executive director of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, conducted by Scott Harris

Withdrawing from international agreements has been a familiar theme in the first two years of the Trump presidency.  On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate accord that united virtually every nation in the world to combat the dangerous effects of climate change. Then on May 8, Trump stated that he was reneging on the U.S. commitment to abide by the international Iran nuclear deal, which had successfully frozen that nation’s nuclear weapons program.
More recently, the Trump White House revealed that it intended to withdraw the U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treatysigned by President Ronald Reagan and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.  The treaty succeeded in preventing the deployment of destabilizing U.S. and Russian missiles on the European continent over the last 30 years.
President Trump charges that the Russians are violating the terms of the INF treaty by building and deploying an intermediate range missile, the Novator 9M729, which exceeds the Treaty’s range limitation of 310 to 3,420 miles. The Russians counter that the U.S. has defied the agreement by deploying an anti-missile system in eastern Europe that can be used offensively against Russia. On Dec. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an ultimatum to Russia that if it didn’t comply with the treaty in 60 days, the U.S. would withdraw. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with John Burroughs, executive director of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, who discusses his group’s campaign to preserve the INF Treaty and prevent a new U.S.-Russia nuclear arms race.
JOHN BURROUGHS: The announcement in October seemed to be a case of John Bolton – who was against any kind of international law – whispering in Trump’s ear. U.S. concerns about a Russian intermediate range missile go back well into the Obama administration. And, they’ve been trying to work it out with the Russians for four or five years now. And the understanding prior to Trump’s announcement was basically that that effort would continue.

The director of national intelligence just released a report, which is the first time we’ve seen anything public about U.S. claims. And, they’re saying that Russia indeed has deployed missiles that violate the INF treaty in Russia. They didn’t give numbers, but others have said it could be, you know, a couple of hundred and that they could threaten both Europe and Asia with nuclear or conventionally-armed missiles. And the INF treaty covers both.

Mostly arms control supporting experts have said, “Yes, Russia is violating the treaty, but we need to just work hard to bring them back into compliance.” The very same thing was done with a radar installation that the Soviet Union had that was violative of the ABM treaty. And critics go on to say that it doesn’t make sense for the U.S. To deploy missiles that would violate the INF treaty. There is no need for them. The U.S. has other capabilities. The allies wouldn’t accept having them based on their territory. So why leave a treaty if you’re not going to test and deploy something that would violate it?

BETWEEN THE LINES: The Russians in responding to Trump’s intention to withdraw from the INF treaty say that the U.S. antimissile systems that have been deployed in eastern Europe and armed U.S. drones are similarly a violation of the INF treaty. Your comment on that?

JOHN BURROUGHS: Well, first of all, I have to say, Scott, you have really researched this very good. Yes, the Romanian missile defense deployment of the U.S. and the planned Polish one drive the Russians crazy. The Russians believe that the missile defense systems – which the U.S. claims are to protect against an Iranian potential capability – that they are really aimed at Russia. So that doesn’t come within the letter of the INF Treaty, but it does show kind of the underlying problem, which is that the Russians feel that in numerous ways, the United States has not held up what the Russians thought was a post-Cold War settlement: no NATO expansion, no pursuit of offensive capabilities that could threaten the other country’s survival. So I would speculate – and you know, this is speculation only – that the Russian deployments of the missiles the U.S. says violate the INF treaty may have been directly driven by the Romanian missile defense and the planned Polish installation.

BETWEEN THE LINES: John, today, so many years after those major protests of the 1980s, the peace movement, the ant- nuclear arms race movement, is really at a low ebb. Do you have any hope that people across the country dealing with many, many other issues in the age of Trump will be focused enough to put pressure on the Senate and President Trump to influence what happens here with the intention to pull out of the INF treaty.

JOHN BURROUGHS: I’m not necessarily looking for a revival of a 1980s-style freeze movement. But what I would like to see and what I think is really possible, is for nuclear arms control and disarmament advocacy to be integrated with the advocacy on other issues that people do, whether it’s racial justice, climate protection, and so on. And I think that is very much possible.

For more information on the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, visit

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