President Donald Trump said Saturday the United States will cease compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because of Russia’s violation of the landmark Cold War-era accord that prohibited an entire class of nuclear weapons and sent the W84 warhead into storage.
Trump spoke to reporters a day after The New York Times reported that the president’s national security advisor, John Bolton, would deliver the news to the Kremlin during a scheduled visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week.
Asked by a reporter Saturday whether the United States plans to cease complying with the treaty, Trump said, “Yeah, Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years.”
Trump said that unless and until both Russia and China agreed not to, the United States would develop the sort of weapons prohibited by the treaty — ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with flight ranges between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers, or about 310 miles and 3,100 miles.
Trump did not specify whether these new U.S. weapons would or could be nuclear-armed. The INF Treaty forbids both nuclear and conventionally equipped missiles. The United States said Russia violated INF starting in 2014 by testing and then deploying a missile capable of operating inside the treaty-prohibited range.
The treaty, signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and then-Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, precipitated a massive reduction in the number of deployed tactical nuclear weapons — lower-yield weapons intended to be launched from a site near a conflict zone — by both nations.
U.S. Ground Launched Cruise Missiles taken out of service because of INF were armed with the W84 warhead designed by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is dismantling the W84 at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.
Others in Trump’s orbit, notably Bolton, have publicly advocated for scrapping the INF Treaty because it only constrained the arsenals of Russia and the United States, while leaving the economically powerful China free to develop missiles in the prohibited range.