Could the Treaty that ended the Cold War start a New Nuclear Arms Race?

By Rachel Collins,

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1988, following eight years of complex negotiations. The treaty signed in 1988 mandated verified elimination of all U.S. and Soviet ground launched cruise and ballistic missile systems (both nuclear and conventional) with a range of 500-5500 kilometers, within three years [1]. A total of 846 U.S. and 1,846 Soviet weapons were slated for elimination. The agreement mandated destruction of the missiles and associated support systems, but not the guidance system or warhead, both of which could be repurposed for use in other non-INF prohibited systems [2]. The treaty additionally banned further missile production, as well as flight testing or other activities that might allow development or improvement of prohibited systems.

Prior to 2001, the INF Treaty went into detail with on-site inspections including a complex and technically involved process for reciprocal inspections, including:

  • Baseline inspections to verify initial numbers of deployed systems at deployment, support, and production facilities

  • Elimination inspections to verify the dismantlement/destruction of missiles

  • Closeout inspections to verify that deployment sites and support facilities no longer housed treaty prohibited articles

  • Short-notice inspections of declared facilities to verify continuing compliance for a period of 13 years

  • Portal monitoring of former missile assembly plants (one in the Soviet Union, and one in the United States) to insure that treaty-prohibited articles did not leave the premises [3].

After 2001, it became a  mutually exclusive deal that both the United States and Russia had to remain in compliance with the treaty, but since the Obama administration that compliance has been slowly deteriorating.

Under the Obama administration “The United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the I.N.F. treaty not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” with evidence provided that Russia actually tested a ground-launched cruise missile. [4] The continuation of accusations by the United States led the country to fail because of the lack of political will for the country to provide a coherent, long-term solution for the violation. The troubling negotiations of the INF Treaty has led to the current Trump administration to respond.

Members of Trump's administration, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, have been completely against the treaty because of Russia's continued violation and China’s nonparticipation of the agreement. In October of this year, Trump said at a rally: “Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say: ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,’  America would pull out and start building new nuclear arms,” [5]. In response, Mr. Putin said: “The aggressors should know: Revenge is inevitable and they will be destroyed, and we, as victims of aggression, will go straight to heaven as martyrs while they will just croak.” No matter the conflict at hand no state regime, especially the United States, wants to be an initiator of nuclear aggression because retaliation is completely justified, as Mr. Putin put it.

Unfortunately, the proliferation aspects of nuclear arms is de jure, but continues to act with de facto aspects because of powerful entities that chose to protect their own power and privilege rather than internationally recognized treaties. If negotiations stagnate and powerful bodies like the United States and Russia continue to battle and build nuclear arms there could be the evolution of a new nuclear arms race, unless de facto turns into de jure.

Rachel Collins is a junior at the University of South Florida, where she is currently pursuing International Studies.

Works Cited:

[1] [2] [3] Bonin, Benjamin. “The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty: Background and Lessons Learned for Middle East Arms Control.” Glenn T. Seaborg - Contributions to Advancing Science, Praeger Publishers,New York, 1 May 2012,

[4] Gordon, Michael R. “U.S. Says Russia Tested Cruise Missile, Violating Treaty.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 July 2014,

[5] Kramer, Andrew E. “The I.N.F. Treaty, Explained.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Oct. 2018,

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