If Russian Missile Testing is in Violation of the INF Agreement, What Will Happen Next?

04 September 2014
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Debates about Russia’s SS-20 and Western Pershing II missiles during the Cold War era can today be remembered either by the generation who witnessed the whole trajectory of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, or they can be learned from diplomatic history books or arms control journals. However, the IR community has just very recently, more than two decades after their elimination, discovered new debates about the INF agreement’s current stand. These newly released debates are due to the recent American accusations that Russia has been testing the range of missiles banned under the INF agreement.
In December 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF), a very important agreement that banned an entire class of US and Soviet nuclear weapons. The INF agreement was developed as a product of the Cold War era, and it surely helped to seal the Cold War relationship between Washington and Moscow. Moreover, the INF agreement was considered to be one of the most important cornerstones of arms control efforts conducted between the two sides until that time. According to the INF deal of 1987, all of the US and Soviet land based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5.500 kilometers were banned. The negotiations regarding the INF missiles took some time to finalize. As is well-known, the formal negotiations between the two sides began in 1981 but then stopped in 1983 when the Soviet side decided to walk out of the negotiations, citing the arrival  of US Pershing II missiles and the ground launch cruise missile (GLCM) to Europe. Then, INF negotiations restarted in 1985. At the beginning of this new phase of negotiations, the Russian side hoped to reach an agreement that would only ban US INF missiles from Europe and would allow Soviet missiles to remain. In response to the rejection of this proposal, the Russians then decided to propose another one that would ban INF missiles from Europe but allow their deployment somewhere else. As a response to this new Soviet offer, Washington put forward global limits for INF missiles for both sides. Washington’s main motivation for bringing this new offer was associated with the technical characteristics of Soviet INF missiles. Because of their range and mobility, Soviet INF missiles, like the triple war head SS 20s, were able to reach Europe and beyond. That is why they always maintained the possibility of becoming a security threat for US allies, both in Europe and Asia, whether they were stationed in the east of the Urals or moved further west. So it is no wonder that today Washington’s allies like Japan and South Korea in Asia have developed serious concerns about the fate of the 1987 INF agreement. Back in the 1980s, both Japan and South Korea insisted that the finalized INF agreement should not give them less protection than the European’s.


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