Trump didn’t kill the INF Treaty. Putin did

The Trump administration was right to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. But it’s inaccurate to say the U.S. is scrapping the treaty. Russia scrapped it years ago.

Russia has flagrantly violated the treaty for at least the past three years and utterly rejected demands to return to compliance. Not only that, Russia also rejected repeated NATO requests to verify its claims that the illegal weapons, the Novator 9M729 intermediate-range cruise missile system, actually complied with INF strictures.

So Russia was not merely violating the treaty on substance, but it was also refusing to go through the charade of trying to fool its enforcement mechanisms.

But America’s withdrawal is no small matter, and it has costs. It will hinder our ability to monitor Russian missile deployments, and it will probably prompt Russia to increase its production and deployment of missiles. Such things matter, especially when we’re talking about the world’s deadliest weapons.

Yet Russia’s flagrant violations are about more than a single treaty. If the U.S. did not withdraw, we’d be signaling American weakness to Russian President Vladimir Putin, spurring him to further international outrages. Abiding by our treaty obligations while Russia flouted its own would show the Kremlin it could get away with anything without Washington making a fuss.

All NATO’s 28 member states agree that Russia is „in material breach” of its obligations under the INF Treaty. Speaking to the Washington Examiner last Sunday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained that Moscow’s deployment of the Novator is designed to split the U.S. and Europe.

On Friday, he tweeted that „Russia is in material breach of the #INFTreaty and must use next 6 months to return to full and verifiable compliance or bear sole responsibility for its demise. #NATO fully supports the US suspension & notification of withdrawal…”

President Trump’s suspension of the treaty, then, is no tantrum. It helps the NATO alliance. The U.S. sought Russia’s permission to analyze the Novator system forensically but was rebuffed. Instead, Putin put on a Potemkin demonstration of the Novator in which foreign military attaches were shown a mock-up of the system from a distance. That sounds like a joke, but it’s a sick one.

Putin’s antics are intended to tell European powers that Russia can strike its interests without risking nuclear retaliation from the United States. If Trump were to let that pass, how could NATO trust the U.S. to come to a member’s aid in the event of conflict? Credibility matters, and it is measured in moments such as this one.

This was a complicated decision, and we hope Russia will soon behave in such a way as to make the treaty more than a worthless piece of paper. But that’s what it is now. Trump didn’t kill it; Putin did.

Source: RealClearPolitics / by Washington Examiner

02 02 2019

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