The United States has officially withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement with the Russian Federation that limited the types of weapons systems the nations involved could pursue.
"Russia has failed to comply with its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and as such, the United States has withdrawn from the INF Treaty effective today, Aug. 2, 2019," Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said in a statement today. "This withdrawal is a direct result of Russia's sustained and repeated violations of the treaty over many years and multiple presidential administrations."
The agreement, signed in December 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, limited both nations from fielding both "short range" and "intermediate range" land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers that could be used to house either nuclear or conventional payloads.
Esper said that despite U.S. objections, the Russians have continued to violate the treaty, and this is why the U.S. withdrew.
"The facts are clear. The Russian Federation is producing and fielding an offensive capability that was prohibited by the INF Treaty," Esper said. "Russia's material breach erodes the foundation of effective arms control and the security of the United States and our allies and partners."
The United States is not alone in its condemnation of Russian actions, nor in its decision to withdraw from the treaty. A statement today from NATO support the U.S decision.
"Russia today remains in violation of the INF Treaty, despite years of U.S. and allied engagement, including a final opportunity over six months to honour its Treaty obligations," the statement reads. "As a result, the United States decision to withdraw from the treaty, a decision fully supported by NATO allies, is now taking effect."
No longer bound by the rules of the INF — rules the United States followed to the letter for nearly 32 years — the Defense Department is now in a position to pursue its own delivery systems that are capable of countering the threats Russia has been developing in violation of its agreement.
"Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia's actions and as part of the joint force's broader portfolio of conventional strike options," Esper said.
Esper said that prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, DOD embarked on its own treaty-compliant research into conventional, not nuclear, capabilities.
"The department's initial research and development efforts focused on mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems," the secretary said. "Because the United States scrupulously complied with its obligations to the INF Treaty, these programs are in the early stages."
While withdrawal from the treaty affects how the U.S. military operates, as well as the weapons systems it pursues and operates, it is the State Department, not the Defense Department, that made the final decision regarding the treaty.
"The United States will not remain a party to a treaty while Russia is in deliberate violation," Esper said. "The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity."