It was a signature piece of President Reagan’s work to win the cold war, and now the US is pulling out. In a statement today the Trump administration announced that it would be suspending its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the US and Russia.
In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, and to utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification of the agreement. The treaty eased tensions between the two countries and helped to end the Cold War. Today, President Trump said that Russia had violated the treaty and that the US will begin its withdrawal process tomorrow. That decision has many in Europe and here at home on edge.
This week, mayors, parliamentarians, policy experts and civil society representatives from forty countries have sent a joint appeal to Presidents Putin and Trump and to the leaders of the Russian and US legislatures, calling on them to preserve the INF Treaty, prevent a new nuclear arms race in Europe and undertake measures to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict and support global nuclear disarmament. The appeal letter was signed by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities targeted by US nuclear weapons in World War II. The group believes that if the treaty is dissolved it would open the door for intermediate-range, ground-based nuclear-armed missiles returning to Europe and for US deployment of such missiles in Asia.
“We’re concerned about the future and where we go from here,” said Frank Cownie, Des Moines Mayor and vice president of Mayors For Peace, in an interview with CivSource. “We’re working with other Mayors here and abroad to advocate for the treaty. I understand the need for national defense, I have served in the National Guard. But, we should not be putting our allies in danger and we should not be opening the door to another arms race. We should be focused on rebuilding Main Street USA.”
The INF treaty prohibits both countries from using ground-launched cruise missiles. But that hasn’t stopped the development of missiles that can be shot from land or sea by both countries. Russia has also tested ground-launched missiles in recent years, in violation of the treaty. Russia was given 60 days to return to compliance but hasn’t and dissolving the treaty is the US response. US allies in Europe fear that by dissolving the treaty, Russia will be able to build up is an arsenal, putting Europe directly in the crosshairs at a time when it is unclear what the US stance is on fully maintaining the allied relationship with Europe.
Mayors For Peace was established in the 1980s in response to the global disarmament movement and has grown to include over 7,000 cities from 163 countries. Member cities work locally to raise issues around disarmament and push for peaceful cooperation throughout the world. Jacqueline Cabasso, North American coordinator for Mayors For Peace, says that part of that work in the US will be pushing for federal legislation that keeps the INF Treaty in place or at the least prohibits the purchase of weapons that violate the treaty. It is unclear if Congress would act on such a measure and unlikely that President Trump would sign.
Against this backdrop, Mayors For Peace members in Europe are looking for ways to protect themselves. “Mayors and parliamentarians, especially those of us from Europe, will not sit idly on the side while the US and Russia erode our security,’ said Thore Vestby (Norway), Vice-President of Mayors for Peace and a former member of the Norwegian parliament. ‘Cities and parliaments are therefore taking action to support nuclear arms control treaties such as the INF and START treaties, promote additional measures such as no-first-use and the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and to put an end to city and state investments in nuclear weapons corporations.”
Speaking today on the INF decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that it would take six months for the US to fully withdraw. European security officials will likely be using that time to craft a response plan. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has recently traveled to both the US and Russia in an effort to maintain the treaty, which he calls a significant part of the European security architecture. No cohesive European response has emerged yet, but EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Deutsche Welle that “We definitely don’t want to even consider the possibility of going backwards along this path.”