President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia is dangerous. We should fix, not abandon, this important pact.
Having lived through the terrifying Cold War, when threats of mutual annihilation were the norm, and conversely having experienced the power of citizen diplomacy with physician colleagues in Russia, I recall the immense relief we all felt when diplomacy finally prevailed.
In December 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. On Oct. 20, 2018, President Donald Trump announced that the United States intended to withdraw from the agreement. This represents one of President Trump’s most dangerous moves yet.
It’s important to briefly review the history of the agreement. Beginning in 1979, the Soviet Union deployed SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and NATO prepared to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe. This accelerating nuclear arms race put European cities in the crosshairs, introducing the unacceptable risk of nuclear weapons unleashed on cities minutes away.
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The response from citizens was unprecedented. Massive protest marches occurred all across Western Europe, the biggest in postwar European history. In the U.S., the nuclear-freeze movement spread rapidly, with hundreds of towns and cities calling for a halt to this deployment. In June 1982, close to a million people converged on New York’s Central Park for “The Rally to Reverse the Arms Race,” the largest peace rally in U.S. history.
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Back-and-forth negotiations were stalled by nuclear hawks in the U.S., and the aging Kremlin bosses clung to their missiles. People in the streets, in both the U.S. and Europe, refused to go away, with public calls for a “zero option,” no short-range missiles on either side. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and declared his support for nuclear disarmament internationally. During their 1986 summit at Reykjavik, Iceland, both leaders agreed to the zero option, details were worked out, and the INF Treaty was signed in 1987.
The INF Treaty contributed to the end of the Cold War and played a significant role in reducing the global nuclear-arms race. It also opened the door for other historic nuclear-disarmament treaties that led to major reductions in the number of nuclear weapons by both countries.
There is evidence that Russia is violating the treaty, but President Trump’s precipitous decision to withdraw from it contradicts ongoing efforts to hold Russia accountable while attempting to preserve the treaty. Sophisticated diplomacy, for an issue of such importance, calls for a concerted effort to fix, not abandon, it. The chorus of objections to his plans has been massive — from European leaders, foreign-policy experts, national leaders and certainly nuclear activists.
As Washington Rep. Adam Smith, incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman, stated in a letter to the secretaries of Defense and State on Oct. 24, “the Administration is opting for a dangerous approach that threatens a nuclear arms race and abandons effective diplomacy to preserve a vital arms-control agreement. As you know, the INF Treaty, alongside the New START Treaty, forms the basis for our strategic relationship with Russia. These treaties have been crucial tools to help preserve U.S. and European security and reduce the risk of nuclear war with Russia.”
A new nuclear arms race, threatened by this president, is the height of irresponsibility, given the monstrous humanitarian risks from these weapons.
It was outrage on the part of citizenry across the world that demanded and got this treaty into effect; we need the same today. The quest for freedom from these weapons of terror requires that we think of ourselves not as tribes or nations, but as common inhabitants of a shared globe.
It must surely be true, as Pope Francis remarked in April 2016, that the abolition of war (and nuclear weapons) remains “the ultimate and most deeply worthy goal of human beings.” There have been prominent politicians around the world who understand this. We need many of them, including Washington members of Congress, to speak out now.