Analyzing President Trump's Decision to Withdraw from INF Treaty

Posted October 22, 2018

President Donald Trump said Oct. 20, 2018 that the United States will withdraw from the 1987 Treaty on Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, also known as the INF Treaty. Trump said Moscow has been in violation of the treaty for years, and said the United States is at a disadvantage because of it.

Here is analysis of the announcement from experts in Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, a part of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology:

  • The world should be deeply concerned. “This decision has the potential to catalyze new arms-racing dynamics between the U.S. and Russia and also between the U.S. and China,” according to Assistant Professor Rachel Whitlark. “Such events have the potential to significantly destabilize already tense circumstances and risk additional escalatory dynamics. Moreover, NATO is already in an unstable situation because of internal alliance dynamics, and additional Russian nuclear build-up will further fray the alliance.
  • Pulling out of the treaty benefits Russia more than the United States: “This is something Russia has wanted for years — an end to INF,” said Associate Professor Margaret E. Kosal, a former Department of Defense official who participated in the interagency Nonproliferation and Arms Control Technology Working Group reporting to the National Security Council. Whitlark agrees, arguing “none of this is in the U.S.’s interests.” The United States now stands to be blamed for the death of the treaty, she said. “It would have been preferable for the United States to stand united with its European allies and collectively pressure the Russians to negotiate.”
  • This could make it harder to contain Russia. "The irony is that such a future deployment and attendant arms race would neither fundamentally allow for discrete options to blunt a conventional invasion or control escalation in the face of Russian limited offensives in Europe nor convey greater political will in the U.S. or Europe to stand up to Russian low-level aggression," said Adam Stulberg, Neal Family Chair Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Relations. "Rather, it would risk further devolving the European strategic equation, making future confrontation more likely to go nuclear, and placing greater pressure on the U.S. to undertake unwanted and dangerous escalatory measures. That plays further into Russian coercive diplomacy."
  • However, the move could be a gambit to counter growing Chinese influence in East Asia. “National Security Advisor John Bolton feels that effort that had been limited by the treaty because the overwhelming majority of China’s missiles fall into the range governed by the INF,” according to Whitlark. The INF only applied to the United States and Russia and so had no direct bearing on China’s nuclear development, she notes.
  • The decision is not entirely out of the blue. Discussions have been going on about a possible U.S. withdrawal for quite some time, said Associate Professor Lawrence Rubin.
  • The U.S. withdrawal represents a new low point for arms control efforts. "The INF Treaty carries special symbolic meaning for arms control, as it was the first aimed at eliminating an entire class of deployed systems in U.S. and Soviet arsenals," Stulberg said. Moreover, the intrusive onsite inspections called for in the pact helped build confidence on both sides. Its demise "underscores the need for a paradigm change in strategic stability and arms control to advance any future efforts," Stulberg said.
  • Trump likely has the authority to make this move. Although entering a treaty requires approval by the U.S. Senate, it seems a president has the authority to exit one without such scrutiny, Kosal said. “How to withdraw from treaties has never been challenged. It’s unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would challenge, and would likely require a Supreme Court ruling.”

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Margaret Kosal, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs

Rachel Whitlark

Assistant Professor Lawrence Rubin

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