Sec. of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which could have been re-negotiated if the US had acknowledged its own responsibility for the treaty’s problems

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Friday, August 2nd marks the day that the United States officially withdraws from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, also known as the INF Treaty, which had been in effect since 1987 when US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed it. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the US withdrawal from the treaty by tweeting the following on Friday, “On February 2nd, 2019 the US gave Russia six months to return to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia refused, so the treaty ends today. The US will not remain party to a treaty when others violate it. Russia bears sole responsibility.”

Already in 2014, the Obama administration accused Russia of having violated the INF Treaty because of its deployment of a cruise missile system known as the SSC-8. Russia, though, argues that this missile has a range that is below the treaty’s range limit of 310 to 3,400 miles. In contrast, Russia argues that the US has violated the INF Treaty itself with the deployment of an anti-missile system that can be retrofitted with nuclear warheads and for having missile bases that could launch Tomahawk cruise missiles from Poland.

Joining me now to discuss the implications of the US abrogation of the INF Treaty is Geoff Wilson. He’s a Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation where he hosts the “Nukes of Hazard” podcast. Thanks for joining us today, Geoff.

GEOFF WILSON: Yeah. Thanks for having me on, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with the main reason that the Trump administration is giving for pulling out of the INF Treaty. As I said, each side accuses the other of having violated it. What is your sense of how each side has adhered to the treaty until now?

GEOFF WILSON: Sure. So there’s very real concerns on both sides about whether or not the other is in compliance. The Obama administration said in 2014 that the Russians were no longer in compliance, that they actually started deploying these new cruise missiles that violated the treaty. The Russians on the other hand, say, like you said that our anti-missile defense systems actually have a dual-use offensive capability. We say that they’re for intercepting missiles coming out of Iran. They say, well, you could easily just as well put a nuclear weapon on top of that missile.

And so I think that there are very real concerns on both sides. The problem is that instead of trying to further negotiate this, instead of trying to bring the Russians back to the table, instead of using any of the enormous amount of soft power resources that the United States has, we’ve decided to just kill it, to let it end, to pull out. And at the same time, to potentially start a new arms race in Europe, building a whole new generation of these fast, highly accurate, short and intermediate-range missiles, and that’s on both sides. So I think that even though the concerns about violation were real, the possibility of no longer being constrained to the treaty is even more dangerous.

GREG WILPERT: Now, another reason the Trump administration has given for withdrawing from the treaty is that China is not a part of it and that it is deploying thousands of intermediate range nuclear missiles itself that need to be countered. Actually, National Security Advisor John Bolton, argued last year when the US withdrawal was first announced, that the treaty is obsolete because, “this is a Cold War, bilateral ballistic missile treaty in a multi-polar ballistic missile world.” What’s your reaction to that argument?

GEOFF WILSON: I think it’s pretty disingenuous. Just because another nuclear power is not part of this treaty… this treaty is entirely built on stopping issues and accidents and very, very dangerous escalations between the United States and Russia. And the United States and Russia have 93% of the world’s nuclear weapons. We have about 6,000; the Russians also. The Chinese have about 300 nuclear weapons. And we host them on three different platforms. We have nuclear submarines that carry ballistic missiles. We have strategic bombers that can either launch air launch cruise missiles we have, or gravity bombs. We have the silo-based ICBMs. I don’t think that we are missing a capability. In fact, we have lots of alternatives.

The INF Treaty was around since 1987 and nobody thought that we were less safe because all of a sudden we didn’t have ground-launched missiles inside of Europe. The other part of this is that the Europeans I don’t think want any more weapons. We already base tactical nuclear weapons in several NATO countries. And those populations, those constituencies, don’t want them anymore. There’s a whole lot of talk about whether or not the United States should be allowed to base nuclear weapons in these countries. So all of a sudden, where are we going to put a new generation of them?

GREG WILPERT: Right. Actually, I read some reports that were saying that the alternatives for the United States was Japan, which really doesn’t make sense since Japan wants to develop closer relations with China and that would only alienate them.

GEOFF WILSON: Right. So strictly speaking, in the Pacific, dealing with China, where, absolutely where would you put them? It’s mostly ocean, it’s mostly water. So you’re left with Japan, which is, for obvious reasons, strictly against nuclear weapons. South Korea, which is also trying to build relations with North Korea. Right now they have an independent track than the US-North Korea diplomacy track. They have their own inter-Korean policy. They’re not going to want to host short-range nuclear missiles, all of a sudden upset the North Koreans. So where are you going to put these things? We already have the submarine leg of the triad, the deterrent leg of the triad, that patrols the world’s oceans with nuclear missiles. I don’t think that by not having a new set of them, we somehow are less safe. In fact, I think that by introducing more, we actually make the world a more dangerous and destabilizing place.

GREG WILPERT: Well, that was actually going to be my next question, that, this issue of destabilization, which is one of the main arguments in favor of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Now, of course, another factor is that the move might also have an effect on the remaining nuclear treaties, such as New Start and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So what do you think will be the most important longer-term consequences of the cancellation of the INF Treaty?

GEOFF WILSON: I’m worried that it feeds into this new nuclear arms race idea. Right now we are set to spend $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years on an entire generation of new bombers, new submarines, new missiles and new bombs. The Russians are similarly upgrading their forces. And at the same moment, we have allowed these international arms control agreements to fall apart. I don’t think that any sane person thinks that that will make us safer, that having more weapons, and now the Trump administration has been pushing for these smaller and more usable nuclear weapons, will make us more safe. That by having less constraints on Russian forces will somehow make us less safe.

Right now there is only one strategic arms agreement that is left standing between the United States and Russia, the New Start Deal. And you have to remember that the INF Treaty was the last of the Reagan Era arms control agreements and it was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the United States Senate. It was 93 to five votes in the Senate that supported this. At the height of the Cold War, they thought that this made America safer. It’s hard for me to believe now that it makes us less safe.

GREG WILPERT: All right. Okay. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Geoff Wilson, Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. Thanks again, Geoff for having joined us today.

GEOFF WILSON: Thanks, Greg. I appreciate it.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

Gregory Wilpert

Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.