US withdrawal from INF Treaty puts Europe (and the world) at risk


The US suspension of and withdrawal from the INF-Treaty is an irresponsible move that opens the path for a new-nuclear arms race and highlights the importance of real multilateral, binding solutions like the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. With Russia and the US putting the entire world at risk, it is urgent for all responsible states to stand up and join the Nuclear Ban Treaty.

Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign on Nuclear Weapons: “ Trump has fired the starting pistol on Cold War II. Only this one could be bigger, more dangerous, and the world may not be so lucky this time around. European leaders and all NATO allies, must make it clear that withdrawing from the INF treaty is a threat to European security. European governments must be working toward removing all nuclear weapons from European soil by joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

The importance of the INF Treaty

The INF Treaty was the first agreement between Russia and the US that eliminated entire categories of nuclear weapons. For over 30 years, both sides agreed to the elimination of all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometre. As a result, the US destroyed 846 of its missiles and 32 launch sites, and the USSR destroyed 1,846 missiles and 117 sites [1].

Suspension and next steps

As per today’s announcement, the US is suspending its compliance with the treaty and handing in its notice of withdrawal from the Treaty, on the basis that the Russian Novator 9M729 missile is within the prohibited missile range (more than 500 km). This means the INF-Treaty will terminate on 2 August unless US revokes this notice.  Russia would officially still be bound by the treaty until August 2nd, but has warned that if the United States developed INF-range missiles, Russia would do so as well.

If Russia and the US are honest about their commitment to nuclear disarmament, both parties should do everything they can to save the Treaty in the coming 6 month period.  But over the past few weeks, months, and even years, t both Russia and the US have signaled an apparent interest in a new nuclear arms race. Last week, Trump began building new nuclear missiles and Putin has said he will do the same. Both countries are spending millions in modernising their arsenals.

Europe at risk

While the INF Treaty only bound two countries, its demise endangers the entire world. The only ones applauding the decision to tear up this Treaty are the nuclear weapons manufacturers, eagerly anticipating the kickoff of Cold War II.

While announcing the withdrawal, US Secretary of State Pompeo stated that Russia’s violations put millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk, and speaks of the unity among the US’ allies in support for US withdrawal. Yet the EU have actually called for both the US and Russia to do everything they can to save the INF-Treaty. European governments know a new nuclear arms race poses an unacceptable security risk for Europe, which is once again put at the literal center of potential conflict.

In 1987, the INF eliminated the category of nuclear weapons that put European countries most at risk, due to the distances the missiles could travel, rescuing Europe from one of the most dangerous escalations of the Cold War. The collapse of the INF-Treaty opens the doors for the US to station these intermediate range missiles in Europe again, alongside the other nuclear weapons it already stores in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Turkey. General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian military, indicated that US missile sites on allied territory could become “the targets of subsequent military exchanges.” In short, pulling out of the INF will move the world in reverse and endanger all Europeans.

The Nuclear Ban Treaty as an alternative to the new nuclear arms race

While nuclear armed states appear hell-bent on increasing and modernising their arsenals, there is a growing global resistance to nuclear weapons. 70 nations have signed the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and 21 have ratified it. All over the world, support for the Treaty is growing and inspiring action at the national and local level: more than 1200 active members of parliament across all continents have already pledged their support for the Treaty, and just today Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan) and Trondheim (Norway) have called on their governments to join it.

 With 50 States Party, the treaty will ban all nuclear weapons under international law, like chemical weapons and landmines before them.  For the sake of sanity and humanity, responsible leaders must counteract the destruction of the INF Treaty with a clear signal that nuclear weapons are not acceptable. They must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

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[1] Arms Control Association, ‘The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at a Glance’, Updated December 2018, at:

[2] T. Grove, ‘Putin Threatens Arms Race as U.S. Prepares to Exit Nuclear Treaty’, Wall Street Journal, 5 December 2018, at:; and ‘Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress’, Updated 18 January 2019, Congressional Research Service, Washington DC, p. 3, at: