MOSCOW/WASHINGTON/BERLIN – A major nuclear arms control pact between the United States and Russia expired on Friday, raising the specter of a new Cold War-style arms race.
The move came after U.S. President Donald Trump said last October that he would withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which limits the size of each nation’s arsenal of missiles.
The United States had long contended that Russia has been in breach of the pact by deploying a range of tactical nuclear weapons to intimidate former Soviet states that have aligned with the West. Russia, however, denies violating the accord.
Trump has called for negotiations for a new nuclear arms control treaty as his administration sees the bilateral accord with Russia as outdated in the absence of China and other nuclear powers. Beijing has taken a negative stand on the proposal.
The INF pact was signed by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987 and took effect in June 1988. It sought the destruction of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
In New York on Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the world will lose “an invaluable brake on nuclear war” with the expiry of the INF treaty.
“This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles,” Guterres told reporters. “Regardless of what transpires, the parties should avoid destabilizing developments and urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control.”
The 2010 New START treaty, another U.S.-Russia arms control accord that limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons, is also set to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree.
Germany also urged the United States and Russia to preserve what is left of the international arms control framework.
In a statement on Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested Moscow was to blame for the expiration of the INF treaty. “We regret that Russia failed to do what was necessary to save the INF treaty,” Maas said.
“With the end of the INF treaty, Europe is losing part of its security,” Maas added. “I am convinced that today we must again succeed in agreeing rules on disarmament and arms control in order to prevent a new nuclear arms race.”
He urged Moscow and Washington to do more to preserve the New START treaty.