The Corner

National Security & Defense

Exclusive: Mike Pompeo Says Good Riddance to the INF Treaty

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a news conference during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, August 1, 2019. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)
And hits the Russians for their persistent noncompliance.

Bangkok — It’s official: The U.S. is out of the INF Treaty.

Here at the annual conference of ASEAN, the organization of Southeast Asian countries, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told National Review that the U.S. has triggered its formal withdrawal from the treaty. 

President Trump announced the imminent U.S. exit last October, starting the clock ticking toward the official date six months later, or today.

Signed in 1987, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a key agreement in the late 1980s Reagan–Gorbachev diplomacy that proved the endgame of the Cold War.

After the Soviets deployed intermediate-range SS-20 missiles that could hit NATO countries from bases in the Soviet Union, the U.S. countered with its own intermediate-range missiles in Europe. President Ronald Reagan proposed the “zero option” to eliminate such U.S. and Soviet systems, and the INF Treaty did just that. 

The Russians have been flagrantly violating the treaty for years, and it doesn’t apply to China, which has massively built up its missile program, including intermediate-range systems. 

“Six months ago now,” Pompeo told NR, “after years of discussion with the Russians about their noncompliance, we put them on notice that if they didn’t come back into compliance that we would do what we’re [doing today].

“When I say ‘we,’” he continued, “not only the United States, but the European countries, Jens Stoltenberg [the secretary general of NATO], we have all done our level best to convince the Russians that it was in their best interests to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, and they have done literally nothing — literally nothing.”

There is no question about the extensive evidence of Russian cheating. “No one inside of NATO or the EU has any doubt,” Pompeo said. “We all have the same data set, and there’s complete unanimity.”

The formal U.S. withdrawal will, of course, stoke talk of a renewed U.S.–Russia arms race. 

According to Pompeo, “We will continue our strategic security dialogue with them that we started now two weeks ago, trying to develop a larger framework for not just the intermediate weapons systems, but the larger . . . panoply of places where we really need to engage in a serious conversation about arms control and nonproliferation.”

The U.S. wants to do its best, he added, to make sure, as President Trump has said, “not to end up in an expensive arms race that leads to nothing for — no improvement for any of the countries.”

Then, there’s the other problem with the old INF Treaty: “There was obviously the fact,” Pompeo said, “that China now is engaged in its own weapons buildup, including its nuclear weapons buildup.”

If there are going to be talks on arms-control agreements going forward, they obviously should account for the new status of China.

“President Trump has been pretty clear in saying that we really do need this other . . . significant nuclear power to be part of this conversation as well,” Pompeo noted. 

The secretary of state said he had brought that up in his meeting yesterday at the ASEAN conference with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

One way or the other, though, we are now in the post–INF Treaty world. And the biggest reason is that no one could truly answer the question why the United States should be the only country in the world that strictly abided by the treaty’s limits. 

“A two-party treaty with one party in compliance isn’t worth a hell of a lot,” Pompeo said, by way of an epitaph for the agreement. “And that’s where we unfortunately found ourselves.”

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