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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


U.S. Withdrawal from the
Intermediate Nuclear Force
Agreement
Carlyle A. Thayer
February 11, 2019
We are preparing a report on the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range
Nuclear Forces agreement. We request you response to the following questions:
Q1-Do you expect an increasing in military tension between the major nuclear powers
after the U.S. withdrawal? How far could tensions go?
ANSWER: The announcements that the United States and Russia will withdraw from
the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is unlikely to cause any spike in
serious tensions in the short run because of the six-month time lag involved in
withdrawing from the INF agreement. Prospects in the long-term are very worrying.
The INF Treaty banned all short and intermediate-range land-based ballistic and cruise
missiles and launchers with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty did not ban
these missiles on ships or aircraft.
In 2014, Russia began a build-up of missiles in eastern Russia that threaten Central
Europe. Russia’s deployment of the Kalibr (9M729) cruise missile,was “the straw that
broke the camel’s (Trump Administration’s) back.” Russia responded to the U.S. action
by announcing that it too would withdraw from the INF and then develop and deploy
intermediate range nuclear missiles. Russia’s intermediate range nuclear missiles do
not directly threaten the United States because of their short range but they do
threaten Europe.
NATO members will be forced to respond to the new Russian threat. However, given
Trump’s disdain for NATO, he is likely to insist that European members bear the brunt
of the costs of their own defence. This will put more strain on the alliance. Russia will
prey on any differences between the U.S. and Europe.
NATO members could decide to develop and deploy nuclear-capable cruise missiles to
deter Russia. They could also deploy the U.S. land-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
System to defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Romania
and Poland currently have the Aegis system.
Sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea were imposed by the
European Union and the United States. These sanctions have provoked Russian ire.
Tensions between Russia and NATO have been part of the “new normal” since 2014
when Russia annexed Crimea. Russian military aircraft and naval vessels have flown
close to NATO airspace and maritime zones, prompting NATO countries to scramble
aircraft to intercept and identify the Russians. Each of these encounters poses the risk
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of miscalculation or misadventure. Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian vessels in


November 2018 in waters near Crimea sparked the most recent tensions.
The Democratic Party’s control of the House of Representatives, plus a minor
Republican revolt against aspects of Trump’s foreign policy towards Russia, add
additional uncertainty to strategic assessments. The Democrats are likely to push
further punitive action against Russia not only for its interference in the 2016 elections
but its continuous interference in domestic American affairs. This will only further sour
U.S.-Russian relations.
Q2-What would be the next moves of the U.S., Russia, EU and China?
ANSWER: The INF Treaty does not cover China or Iran. President Trump has declared
he is open to renegotiating the INF treaty to include other countries, China in
particular. This is unlikely to take place anytime soon.
The breakdown of the INF Treaty will spur Russia to collaborate more with China to
oppose the United States on a global basis. Russia is also like to make common cause
with Iran as well.
The EU and the United States differ over the Iran nuclear framework deal and the EU
is taking steps to protect its trade with Iran. To the extent that Iran and Russia act in
concert, this will serve to wedge the EU closer to the United States. This could have
the consequence that Iran abandons the nuclear framework deal and resumes the
development of nuclear weapons. This would undermine EU present policy.
The ructions caused by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty is “small
beer” compared to President Trump’s decision to decision to modernize the U.S.
nuclear arsenal. Russian will redouble its efforts to respond in kind. Already it has
touted a hypersonic glider that it states can evade U.S. detection. This situation could
evolve into a nuclear arms race.
In sum, the Cold War patchwork of nuclear arms control agreements is beginning to
fray. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation no longer has the
economic and demographic capacity to threaten Europe with a conventional war.
Russian national security is tied to a military doctrine where nuclear weapons are
central.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “U.S. Withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear
Force Agreement,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, February 11, 2019. All
background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.