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U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty: The Facts and the Law

| Oct. 25, 2018

On Oct. 20, President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a 1987 bilateral agreement prohibiting the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers and their launchers. Speaking at a rally in Elko, Nev., Trump cited Russian violations as the chief reason for the U.S. withdrawal and said the United States would develop intermediate-range missiles until Russia and China—which is not party to the INF Treaty—agreed to cease development of their own intermediate-range missiles. Interestingly, prior to Trump’s announcement, White House officials had indicated that the administration had not yet decided to withdraw from the treaty. Shortly after the president's statement, national security adviser John Bolton traveled to Moscow to discuss Russia’s violations and the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal.

The INF is the latest in a series of treaties and international agreements that the administration has decided to terminate, and the pace of withdrawals appears to have accelerated since Bolton replaced H.R. McMaster as Trump's national security adviser. The INF Treaty has long been in Bolton's sights. In a 2014 Wall Street Journal piece co-authored with John Yoo, entitled "An Obsolete Nuclear Treaty Even Before Russia Cheated," Bolton criticized the Obama administration for "engaging in contortions to save the INF" in the face of renewed Russian aggression and called on Washington to withdraw from the treaty. Bolton's personal views aside, there are also real strategic concerns underlying the U.S. INF withdrawal, should the administration follow through. Moreover, Trump's announcement is hardly the first time Russia has been accused of significant breaches of the treaty....

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For Academic Citation: Hurd, Hilary and Elena Chachko.“U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty: The Facts and the Law.” Lawfare, October 25, 2018.

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