President Donald Trump issued an ultimatum to Russia on Tuesday that the U.S. would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in two months if Moscow refuses to adhere to its obligations under the pact.
The decades-old nuclear arms agreement has prevented the two countries from developing and testing a number of intermediate-range missiles.
However, as Russia rejects the Trump’s administration claim that it is violating the agreement, and is thus unlikely to meet U.S. demands, a number of experts are getting increasingly worried that “a crisis could go nuclear.”
Jon Wolfsthal, who served as National Security Council senior director for arms control and nonproliferation under former President Barack Obama, said that “it’s almost certain the Trump administration will pull out of the treaty.”
The INF suspension was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his meeting with NATO foreign ministers. Pompeo said Tuesday that Moscow’s violation of the treaty was part of its broader patters of “lawlessness” on the global stage. His comments were supported by the NATO ministers, who likewise released a statement arguing Russia violated the agreement.
“Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security. We strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty,” they said in the statement.
Although most experts agree Russia is in violation of the INF, they fear the decision to withdraw from the treaty, announced by President Donald Trump in October, could spur an arms race.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in response that if the United States withdraws from the nuclear arms agreement, Russia would start developing the disputed missiles. According to Wolfsthal, that would allow Russia to keep the missiles it has been building and deploying, while the United States, which has no similar missile, would be “letting the Russians off almost Scott free.”
While some criticized President Trump for making the decision unilaterally without consulting NATO or Congress, others applauded him, calling it a necessary step to reign in “Russian deception.”
“For too long, Vladimir Putin has openly flaunted the INF treaty and President Trump is right to put him on notice. The United States will no longer tolerate Russian deception at the expense of national security and the security of our allies,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe.