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The INF Treaty at Risk

Blog Post by Senior Programme Advisor Col Stefan Hinz

The signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on 8 December 1987 by President Ronald Reagan of the U.S. and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union put an end to an extremely complex, emotionally charged, and – at least from a (Central) European perspective – dangerous aspect of the Cold War. 

According to the treaty, the possession, production, and flight testing of ground-launched ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km, as well as the possession and production of launchers for such weapons, should be banned in the U.S. and (in legal succession) Russia.

Nearly 40 years later, it seems that the treaty does not have a bright future. The US and Russia are deadlocked in a process of accusations and counter-accusations. Since 2014, the U.S. State Department annually reports Russian non-compliance with the treaty. Meanwhile, the U.S. has reported Russia’s deployment of a new, treaty non-compliant cruise missile, naming it SSC-8. Russia continues strictly to deny non-compliance and names prominently the Missile Defense launcher Mk-41 (AEGIS) as an example of a INF Treaty violation by the U.S.

In Washington, an "INF Treaty Preservation Act" and a set of military options are on the table. It is likely that this process could destruct the treaty in the end.

From a European perspective, I think the following points remain vital:

  • The US still has failed to convince its allies and the international community that the Russian violation is serious.
  • Anyhow, the violation in question is not making much military difference.
  • As far as we know, the US and Russia are not discussing differences between missiles and launchers, which are obviously at the heart of the problem.
  • It would be better to discuss these differences publicly - instead of shaping the path to kill the INF treaty, as it is a cornerstone of Strategic Arms Control especially for Europe.
  • With no major changes to the situation, there will be no NATO consensus on offensive counter-measures. On defensive measures there will.
  • It remains to be seen where the new US administration sees its priorities: in the cohesion of the alliance or maybe in separate “deals” with single countries (which are closer to Russia than others).


>> Read more about the INF Treaty in a Global Context


Colonel (GS) Stefan Hinz is a Senior Programme Officer in the Regional Development Programme at the GCSP, seconded from the German Armed Forces. He is an Air Force Officer with a background in Extended Integrated Air Defence (EIAD), having been trained in air surveillance, fighter and surface-to-air-missile control from 1987 until 1995.