Friday’s talks between NATO and Russia have failed to produce any progress on preserving the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
“We have not seen any signs of a breakthrough,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. He added that the odds of reaching an agreement are “going down, day by day.”
Russia has been refusing to destroy a medium-range missile that NATO insists violates the INF, which means that the United Sates will pull out of the treaty by August 2. The Trump administration already signaled last October that it would be pulling out of the agreement.
The administration gave official notice that it would withdraw in February, giving Russia six months to stop “being in material breach of its treaty obligations.”
Signed in 1987 between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF eliminated all short- and intermediate-range land-based cruise and ballistic and missiles with the range of 300 to 3,420 miles. The United States has for years accused Russia of violating the terms of the agreement.
That breach, specifically, focuses on Russian missiles that the U.S. and NATO say violate the INF. NATO has been calling on Moscow to destroy the Novator 9M729/SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile — but Moscow claims that that the nuclear-capable missiles have a maximum range of 298 miles, which falls under the prohibited rage.
NATO diplomats, though, say there’s no way of confirming this.
It’s unclear how NATO is trying to motivate Russia to get rid of the missiles. Moscow has indicated in the past that it views the INF as a treaty that unfairly prevents it from developing weapons that other countries, such as China, are developing.
China is not a signatory to the INF, and while President Donald Trump has indicated that he’d like to pursue a new INF with China and Russia, China has already said that it “has no interest” in signing such a treaty.
As it stands, Beijing and Washington are engaged in a bitter trade war, making a non-proliferation treaty seem like a long shot.
Moscow, for its part, has also has accused the U.S. of violating the INF by building the NATO missile defense system in Romania and resuming the Cold War by planning to deploy a missile defense system in space.
The end of the treaty has alarmed some experts, who are worried that it would free Russia and the U.S. to start developing more weapons — an arsenal each can claim is strategically justifiable.
It would also give both countries legal permission to place intermediate nuclear weapons around China, which is itself a nuclear power and borders North Korea, a rogue state that also has nuclear weapons.