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The Illegality of American Departure from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty

Dr. Timmon Wallis, Executive Director of NuclearBan.US, denounced United States President Donald Trump on the 3rd of August for pulling the US out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The INF Treaty was signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Article VI, paragraph 2 of the US Constitution declares that "all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land." Therefore, every clause within the INF Treaty became officially incorporated into US law upon President Reagan's signing.

The language of the INF Treaty stipulates that countries may only withdraw if “extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.” Such language is frequently used in security-related agreements in order to hold signatories accountable to the Treaty, with the assumption that "extraordinary events" requiring an exit from the Treaty would be rare. For example, President George W. Bush justified the US departure from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 by arguing that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 qualified as "extraordinary events." Dr. Wallis declared that "withdrawal on any other grounds is simply not legal", thereby casting doubt as to whether the most recent Russian missile deployment justifies President Trump's withdrawal from the INF Treaty.

Instead, Dr. Wallis believes that Russia's missile deployment should be dealt with by the Treaty's internal inspection mechanisms, not by retaliatory withdrawal. According to NuclearBan.US, the treaty "provided for the most intrusive on-site inspections of any treaty in history, backed up by mutual verification by satellite and other monitoring mechanisms, and a Special Verification Commission to resolve any disputes about whether violations have indeed occurred." In fact, Russia's new 9M729 missile is not much different from other missiles within the nation's arsenal, and an inspection would be required to determine whether or not the new dimensions of the missile violate the Treaty.

Regardless of potential Treaty violations, Dr. Wallis is skeptical that the creation of a new Russian missile was jeopardizing to the supreme interests of the United States. Rather, the most concerning element of this new development is the fact that President Trump has broken US law by withdrawing from the INF Treaty without the sufficient justification required by the withdrawal clause. NuclearBan.US advocates for leaders to be held accountable to these international agreements, which is in keeping with the 16th and 17th Sustainable Development Goals. Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has also withdrawn from the Treaty, the risk of nuclear arms escalation seems more likely than ever. This is especially concerning given the history of nuclear arms tension between the US and Russia. Thus, advocating for the importance of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is absolutely crucial. The 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, is currently calling upon the US and Russia to restore the INF Treaty and join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons immediately.

To read more from Dr. Wallis and NuclearBan.US, please visit their website. Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, wrote about the future of nuclear pacts between the US and Russia for The Guardian. Her thoughtful piece can be found here. Dr. Johnson also spoke with BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Berkshire on the subject. Additionally, our partners at ICAN have analyzed the demise of the INF Treaty on their website.

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