WASHINGTON — The United States is suspending one of the last major nuclear arms control treaties with Russia after heated conversations between the two powers recently failed to resolve a long-running accusation that Moscow is violating the Reagan-era treaty.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision Friday as the Trump administration maintained that the Russian government has been unwilling to admit that a missile it has deployed near European borders violates the terms of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Pompeo and his deputies have insisted that Moscow destroy the missile. Instead, the government of President Vladimir Putin of Russia counteraccused the United States of violating the treaty’s terms because of the way in which it has deployed launchers for anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe.
“Countries must be held accountable when they break the rules,” Pompeo told journalists at the State Department.
But while the United States has insisted Russia’s actions sank the treaty, the Trump administration’s real aim is to broaden its prohibitions to include China.
Constrained by the treaty’s provisions, the United States has been prevented from deploying new weapons to counter China’s efforts to cement a dominant position in the Western Pacific and keep U.S. aircraft carriers at bay. China was still a small and unsophisticated military power in the mid-1980s, and not a signatory to the treaty that was negotiated between the United States and a rapidly weakening Soviet Union.
By contrast, much of Beijing’s growing nuclear arsenal currently consists of missiles that fall into the distance ranges that are prohibited by the treaty that applies only to Russia and the United States.
“The issue now is whether the administration has a plan for what comes next,” said Pranay Vaddi, a fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former State Department official until 2017 who worked on nuclear arms control issues. “There is no question that the Russians committed a violation. But it is not militarily significant because it doesn’t change the balance of power in Europe.”
With the treaty on its last legs, the question is whether Pompeo’s announcement will result in a flurry of last-minute negotiations with Moscow — which seems unlikely — or whether it will accelerate the Cold War-like behavior among the United States, Russia and China.