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Russia responsible for end of INF Treaty says Defence Committee

Defence Committee Press Notice – 4 April 2019

The Defence Committee examined the circumstances which, in February 2019, led the US to give notice of withdrawal from the INF Treaty.

In its Report, the Committee has established a timeline of events, scrutinised the possible motivations for the decisions made by both Russia and the US, and evaluated the suggested ways in which the INF Treaty could potentially be saved. The Committee has come to the conclusion that it is unlikely that the Treaty will survive, as a result of Russian unwillingness to return to compliance. Consequently, NATO will have to find a way to respond in a manner consistent with its members’ priorities.

The Committee strongly recommends that evidence of Russia’s re-introduction of a ground-launched, intermediate-range missile system should be publicly presented at the UN Security Council.

The Committee does not exclude the possibility of new arms control agreements with Russia in the future but warns that, if the past is any guide, compliance should never be relied upon without stringent and permanent verification arrangements. In the case of the INF Treaty, the inspection regime was time-limited and ended in 2001. Russian non-compliance is believed to have begun a few years after that date.

Chairman's comments

Defence Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, says:

"The continent of Europe is less safe as a result of the Russian decision to develop missiles in contravention of the INF Treaty. The UK was not a party to this treaty but, like all other NATO members, we must consider the implications of Russian deployment once again of missiles designed to threaten Western Europe and decouple the United States from the rest of NATO in a crisis. We urge the Government to ensure that a robust response to Russia’s violation is agreed and implemented by NATO."

Vice-Chairman's comments

Defence Committee Vice-Chairman, Rt Hon John Spellar MP, says:

"The INF Treaty dates from a different time but it had remained a key building block of European security. As with numerous other agreements in the past decade, President Putin has violated this treaty in a cynical and dangerous fashion. The best outcome would be to get the treaty back on track with proper verification, difficult though this may be, but failing that the UK Government needs to push NATO for a proportionate response which sends a firm message."

[To read the full Report, click here.]

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The INF Treaty is a landmark Cold War arms control agreement in response to Soviet deployment of a new generation of intermediate-range nuclear missiles – the SS-20s – from the mid-1970s. Through a co-ordinated policy of diplomatic and military responses, NATO was able to meet this challenge and bring the Soviet Union to the negotiating table. The resulting treaty abolished an entire category of land-based nuclear missiles and prohibited their future development by Russia or the United States. The agreement remains central to nuclear arms control. At some point in the mid to late 2000s, the Russian Government decided to develop and later deploy a missile system – the SSC-8* – which clearly violated the Treaty.

Successive US administrations over a number of years have sought to bring Russia back into compliance, but each attempt has been met with flat denial and total intransigence. The US announcement that it is now seeking to withdraw from the Treaty is a justified response to Russia’s continuing violation. For several years, NATO has shown increasing concern at Russia’s activities and has now come to a unanimous view in support of the US analysis and its determination to confront the issue. The British Government is right to support this strong collective position. Whilst at every point a diplomatic solution has been and continues to be sought, an essentially bilateral Treaty that has been rendered inoperative by its violation by one party should not be saved at any cost. International arms control relies on adherence to reciprocal obligations and nations should not be required to subject themselves to unilateral observance of them. Arms control more generally is undermined by violation going unchallenged.

There are no straightforward options for saving the Treaty in its current form and any attempt to replace it must be underpinned by robust and continuing verification requirements. However, a change in Russia’s policy on adherence to such agreements would be a necessary prerequisite.

While the security situation in Asia is a factor in both Russian and American nuclear policy, we reject the claims that the US is content to see the Treaty collapse, or has deliberately engineered this because it wishes to deploy missiles in Asia against a growing threat from China. The US has at every stage shown willingness to continue fulfilling its obligations under the Treaty if Russia returns to compliance. Indeed, even now the US has offered to halt the economic and military steps it has begun taking, if Russia returns to compliance. If the Treaty fails, the sole responsibility for its failure will lie with Russia, and any Russian attempts to manipulate the narrative to suggest otherwise must be strongly resisted. We urge the UK Government to persuade the US to use every opportunity, in international fora such as the United Nations, relentlessly to expose and publicise the evidence of Russia’s systematic violation of the Treaty.

NATO is now considering what further steps to take to maintain security and deterrence, and what military options should be part of this process. It is right that there is a detailed collective and consultative discussion within NATO covering a wide range of options. A response need not entail new ground-launched missile deployments in Europe. Instead, NATO should consider augmenting its existing strengths in sea- and air-launched systems to neutralise any advantage that Russia might hope to gain from its decision to violate the INF Treaty by developing and deploying the SSC-8 ground-launched system.

*[Russia's designation for the SSC-8 missile system has been revealed as '9M729'.]