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What is the “INF” and why does it matter?

In December, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. On October 21st of this year, President Donald Trump announced at a rally that the U.S. would formally withdraw from the deal, claiming that Russia has violated the treaty’s terms. “Such a withdrawal would turn back the clock to a dangerous era that put the United States and Russia on the brink of nuclear war,” said Jeff Carter, PSR Executive Director. “President Trump’s plan would weaken national and international security while potentially fueling a new arms race.”

In the 1970s, the Soviets developed and began deploying a new “intermediate range” nuclear missile that threatened Europe, Asia, North Africa and Alaska. The United States responded by deploying Pershing missiles to Germany and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles to several other NATO nations in Europe. The Soviet SS-20 and American Pershing missiles would have been particularly destabilizing in a crisis, because of their ability to reach targets within 6 to 11 minutes of launch.

Recognizing the danger, U.S. and Soviet leaders agreed upon the INF Treaty, which prohibited all ground-launched intermediate-range nuclear weapons. Since the treaty entered into force, 2,692 missiles have been verifiably removed or destroyed. The INF contributed to the end of the Cold War and played a significant role in reducing the global arms race. The INF also opened the door for other historic nuclear disarmament treaties to be pursued through diplomatic channels. If the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the INF, it would set a dangerous and woefully irresponsible precedent for all nuclear-armed nations to renege on their critical disarmament responsibilities.

In a statement responding to the President’s announcement, the European Union declared, “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”

PSR’s prescription is for the United States to negotiate with all nuclear-armed countries for total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. In the meantime, it is critical that the INF remain in force, with both parties fully and demonstrably adhering to the terms of this vital international agreement. If the Trump Administration continues along its present foolhardy course, then Congress should use the power of the purse and refuse to fund development of any intermediate-range weapons.

Please consider writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local paper on this issue. Since many members of Congress are now in their districts campaigning, this is a particularly good time for your letter to have impact. 

If you’d like more information on the INF, see: