The INF treaty: What is it and why is the US pulling out?

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens. (AP). Source: AP

Is the landmark nuclear treaty as ineffective as US President Donald Trump claims or is there another motive for pulling out of the three-decade old pact?

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was signed by former Soviet President Mikael Gorbachev and then-US President Ronald Reagan in 1987. 

The terms of the treaty prohibit Russia and the United States from possessing, producing, or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. 

Why is the US pulling out?

While the INF treaty was considered effective for many years, both the United States and Russia have accused each other of breaches in recent years. 

US President Donald Trump has announced the United States will pull out of the treaty because he believes Russia has violated the agreement. 

"They've been violating it for many years and I don't know why President Obama didn't negotiate or pull out," President Trump said.

US President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018.
US President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have accused each other of violating the INF treaty.
Getty Images

"We're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to.

"We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we've honoured the agreement, but Russia has not, unfortunately, honoured the agreement, so we're going to terminate the agreement.

The pact has also acted as a break on the development of nuclear arms in the US, while China, which is not a signatory to the agreement, has ramped up production of intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

This appeared to be on Trump's mind. 

"Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say, 'Let's really get smart and let's none of us develop those weapons.' But if Russia's doing it and if China's doing it and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable," Trump said.

How have other countries reacted? 

Russia isn't happy, and has long denied allegations that it has produced and tested such missiles. 

In December last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin effectively accused the US of breaking the treaty. 

"When it comes to Europe, we are talking about offensive infrastructure being created there," Putin said.

"And we are talking about the violation from the US side of the articles of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)."

Russia missile
A handout photo made available by the Russian Defence Ministry on 19 September 2017 shows Russian tactic missile Iskander-M.

Mr Gorbachev says President Trump's decision to withdraw from the key Cold War nuclear-weapons treaty, is a reversal of efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament.

While Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, indicated Russia may well retaliate.

"This would be a very dangerous step that, I'm sure, not only will not be comprehended by the international community but will provoke serious condemnation," Mr Ryabkov said.

If the US followed through with the decision to leave the treaty, Mr Ryabkov said: "then we will have no choice but to undertake retaliatory measures, including involving military technology".

"But we would not want to get to this stage." 

Will this spark a fresh arms race? 

US National Security Advisor John Bolton is now in Moscow for two days of high-level talks.

Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin says he believes new missiles are being produced and that it is a "very soviet thing to sign an agreement and then not to follow it."

"We are slowly slipping back to the situation of cold war as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, with quite similar consequences," he said.

"But now it could be worse because Putin belongs to a generation that had no war under his belt.

"These people aren't as much fearful of a war as people of Brezhnev's epoch. They think if they threaten the West properly, it gets scared."

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. (AP)

Melbourne physician Professor Tilman Ruff, established the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons - a group that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

Professor Ruff told ABC News Breakfast, the US threat to walk away from the deal could lead to further negotiations that actually strengthen the treaty.

"The Russians have certainly indicated that they haven't exhausted the options, that there is still room to talk," Professor Ruff said.

"But to walk away from a crucial disarmament agreement, in one fell swoop, essentially without really seeking to sustain it is really a very, not quite unprecedented move since the US left the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2001.

"But it's really a step that's unravelling the limited, but really crucial, arms control agreements we have between those states, that between them have more than 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch