US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF treaty becomes official on 2 August, six months after Washington announced its intention to suspend treaty obligations.
On Tuesday, US National Security Adviser John Bolton confirmed the United States would withdraw from the treaty on Friday.
In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree suspending Moscow's participation in the INF accord in a symmetric response to Washington’s decision.
As of early Thursday evening in Washington, the White House, the State Department and other US government agencies appeared ready to allow the INF treaty to die in silence, with no briefings or conference calls planned to discuss the official withdrawal, although the Trump administration is notorious for last minute calls.
The NATO alliance, however, appears ready to commemorate the moment. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to hold a press briefing at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Friday at around 6:00 a.m. EST (10:00 a.m. GMT) to discuss the issue.
On Wednesday, Stoltenberg said the alliance was prepared to respond in a "measured" way in the post-INF era. At the same time, the NATO chief called on Russia to return to compliance in order to save the treaty.
However, Stoltenberg made no mention about any possible violations by the United States, abetted by NATO.
The Soviet Union and the United States signed the INF Treaty in 1987. The document became one of the most powerful parts of the current arms control structure and architecture. It requires the United States and Russia to eliminate all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,417 miles).
However, both Moscow and Washington blamed each other for multiple violations of the treaty’s articles. US accused Russia in developing advanced ballistic and hypersonic delivery systems and modernizing its inventory.
The United States has been claiming that Russia allegedly tested and deployed the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, arguing it has a range of more than 500 kilometers, which contradicts the treaty. Russia has denied the allegations and said the US Aegis Ashore MK-41 defense system can be used to launch cruise missiles at prohibited ranges.
Russia has denied the allegations and charged the United States for deploying of Aegis Ashore MK-41 defense systems which can be used to launch cruise missiles at ranges banned by the INF treaty.
Nicholas Troyan, a retired US Lt. Col. who inspected Russian sites in 1988-1992, said that it is disappointing the treaty has come to an end.
"It is a shame when countries like Russia and the United States who militarily are two most powerful countries in the world have disagreement on the INF Treaty", Troyan said.
He said that with this treaty Russia and the United States were able to eliminate "a particular class of weaponry"
Troyan, who was born in China in a family of Russian immigrants and moved to the United States in the 1950s, used his excellent Russian language skills inspecting 32 missile bases in Siberia.
"Our team had 10 people, even a commanding General flew with me sometimes, and he also met with his counterpart. It was a very important aspect", he said.
Time after time, the US military discovered some minor violations of the treaty but they were not too blatant.
"In 1990s, one of our teams inspected some Russian site and found MAZ-543 heavy truck designed for 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles (SS-12 in US classification) swimming in the river", Troyan recalled.
In compliance with the treaty, the Russian side cut off the tail sections of these trucks which made these vehicles unable to cross rivers. It emerged that the Russian military provided these trucks to local farmers (kolkhoz).
US experts prepared official reports but did not see bad intent from the Russian side, which apologized and promised to destroy inappropriate equipment.
Troyan said he does not believe that it was special intent. He suggested that farmers might have been former military specialists and decided to use their vehicle in the river because of flooding or some other reason.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) this week tried to make a last-ditch effort to persuade the administration against exiting the treaty.
UCS Co-Director David Wright said in a statement that the Trump administration would threaten the security of the United States and its allies if it follows through with its promise to officially withdraw from the deal on Friday.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday that Europe will lose part of its security with termination of the INF Treaty.
In June, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane said that the suspension of the INF Treaty could be a signal of conclusion of the era of bilateral arms control deals. It is time to think about engaging other nations in such agreements as well, she emphasized.
Several US lawmakers expressed concerns about the future of strategic stability in light of the end of the INF.
"The withdrawal [from the INF] without a follow-on is the invitation for an arms race", US Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez told The Hill on Thursday. "And Russia will clearly spend money on updating and amplifying its weapons systems. And the last thing we need is another arms race. So I’m hoping there can be some effort to move us in the right direction".
US House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith in the same report said that even if Russia violated the treaty, simply pulling out and sparking an arms race was not the answer.
Troyan agreed that by accusing Russia of violations the United States may have been trying to find an "excuse" for withdrawing from the treaty and starting negotiations on a new and more comprehensive agreement.
"In my understanding, including other countries to the treaty was one of the key reasons that we [the United States] decided to abrogate it", Troyan said.
Washington may have been concerned, he added, about other states using short range missiles in the event of war.
"I think it is a shame, that we stop the INF Treaty, but from my point of view, one of the reason why the US stops it because China, Pakistan, India or any other country may have these weapons", Troyan said.
Having these limits, the United States and Russia have to use much more powerful weapons instead of missiles prohibited by the INF Treaty, he added.
Future of Arms Control
Trump HAS repeatedly said that China should be a party of the new arms control treaty. However, Beijing did not show interest in such negotiations.
Troyan, who served in the US military for 33 years, expressed the hope that the international community will be able to reach "a lot of more treaties."
He emphasized that any kind of reduction of any weapons of mass destruction has nothing but positive for everybody concern.
The Treaty between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, commonly referred to as the INF, was signed on 8 December 1987, in Washington by then General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and then US President Ronald Reagan. The treaty entered into force on 1 June 1988.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and former USSR republics of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine were carrying out the obligations under the treaty.
In February, in an article for Russian newspaper Vedomosti, Gorbachev called on Washington to start a dialogue with Moscow over the future of the INF treaty or face the possible destabilization of the global strategic situation.