Smith, Engel Warn Against Exit from the INF & New START Treaties: “It Would Divide Our Allies and Play Directly Into President Putin’s Hands”
October 24, 2018
Washington, D.C. – Today, House Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) sent a letter to President Trump warning against an exit from the INF and New START treaties, and demanding a briefing from Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo about any plans to do so. The text of the letter can be found here.
Rep. Smith released the following statement about the subject:
“Withdrawing from the INF treaty and letting the New START Treaty expire would be grave mistakes. Those actions would needlessly and dangerously remove constraints on Russia’s testing and deployment of illegal cruise missiles; give Russia free rein to deploy an unlimited number of nuclear weapons; and plunge us headlong into a twenty-first century nuclear arms race. Doing so would be short-sighted and detrimental to national security.
“It would divide our allies and play directly into President Putin’s hands. As our allies and partners have discussed, one of President Putin’s goals in undermining the INF Treaty is to goad us into such an action. That would benefit Russia and weaken deterrence by sowing discord among our allies and partners, and undermining European and U.S. security.
“Our strength is in our alliances, not in adding yet one more exotic new weapon or nuclear delivery platform, which is why we should implement the measures I’ve pursued in the House NDAA to push Russia back into compliance via sanctions and other methods. We should not take the bait and fall into Putin’s trap, and we should recognize that nuclear stability has been an essential component of our national security. Exiting from INF and New START would divide us from our allies, derail that stability, and lead us into an uncontrolled nuclear competition. This outcome would be dangerous and weaken our security and our leadership. Instead we should pursue effective diplomatic efforts, make smart investments in a strong deterrent and pursue budgetary priorities that will most effectively keep our country secure, free, and prosperous.”
Rep. Engel made the following statement:
“Unilaterally withdrawing from the decades-old INF Treaty puts us on a dangerous course, especially absent a strategy with our allies in Europe and Asia to deal effectively with Russia’s Treaty violations and avoid another nuclear arms race. It’s also outrageous that the Administration would plow ahead on a decision so critical to our security without consulting Congress. Ranking Member Smith and I will continue to push for an explanation for this action and for why the legislative branch was ignored in the process.”
The text of the letter is as follows:
October 24, 2018
Dear Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo,
We write to express our grave concern that the Trump Administration is notifying Russia that the United States intends to unilaterally withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, without any notice to or consultation with Congress, even as our committees had requested a briefing on these issues. If this action is taken, it would risk an arms race, would jeopardize the security of our allies in Europe and Asia, and would significantly undermine U.S. leadership on arms control.
The precipitous step of President Trump’s intent to notify Russia of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, which was announced over the weekend, discards the results of the Administration’s own extensive review to determine an appropriate response to Russia’s violation of the Treaty. Ten months ago, the Administration announced an integrated response that included diplomatic, military, and economic measures. At the time, we supported this approach and expected to receive details about how the strategy would be executed. Regrettably, we have not received any information on this effort and are unaware of any significant steps the administration has taken to press Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty.
Instead, the Administration is opting for a dangerous approach that threatens a nuclear arms race and abandons effective diplomacy to preserve a vital arms control agreement. As you know, the INF Treaty, alongside New START Treaty, forms the basis for our strategic relationship with Russia. These treaties have been crucial tools to help preserve U.S. and European security and reduce the risk of nuclear war with Russia by ensuring mutual transparency and stability of both the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. They have also provided the framework enabling insight into Russia’s forces and on-site inspections to verify compliance. We will neither support, nor enable, a precipitous course of action that increases the risk of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.
Withdrawing unilaterally from the INF Treaty would play directly into Putin’s hands. It would benefit Russia, not the United States or its allies. Russia would be free to expand deployment of its Treaty-violating missile systems without any legal constraint or fear of international condemnation under the Treaty. And Russia will muddy the waters by shifting the blame to the United States for what was until now a clear Russian violation.
In addition, we have seen no validated military requirement for withdrawing from the INF Treaty and deploying INF-range missiles. There has been no Department of Defense decision on testing or deploying ground-launched INF-range missiles that would require or justify withdrawing from the INF Treaty.
Withdrawal also risks needlessly dividing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and further undermining U.S. leadership and reliability as a stable and predictable partner on matters involving European security. Sowing division within NATO will undermine both U.S. and European security. There has been no effort to take into account the views of our allies and consult with them on this dangerous action. Instead, three other governments were simply confronted with this decision. The two most recent NATO Defense Ministerial communiques have stressed the need to bring Russia back into compliance. In its July 2018 Brussels Summit Declaration, NATO countries stated: “The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security and we remain fully committed to the preservation of this landmark arms control treaty.” The precipitous and rash decision to withdraw from the Treaty directly contradicts the agreed-upon objective to hold Russia accountable for its violation while attempting to preserve the Treaty.
Furthermore, the administration failed to take any effective actions to try to bring Russia back into compliance, including using the dispute resolution mechanism in the INF Treaty, or other diplomatic and economic measures. In an attempt to press the Trump administration to take some meaningful action against Russia that would have held it accountable for violating the INF treaty and might have pressed it back into compliance, the House version of the National Defense Authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2019 required the President to impose sanctions on Russia. Unfortunately, these requirements were dropped from the final bill due mainly to strong opposition from the White House. Given the dire consequences of a nuclear arms race for our national security and that of our European allies, we oppose any unilateral withdrawal from the INF Treaty, and urge a more deliberate and coordinated approach to hold Russia accountable without undermining U.S. security.
We expect a full explanation of why Congress was not even informed of such a decision, and an explanation of why the administration has chosen to take such precipitous, ill-advised – and potentially reckless -- action, rather than working with our allies to increase pressure on Russia to return to compliance under the Treaty.
In addition, we request that prior to taking any action pertaining to the INF Treaty and the New START Treaty, you provide us answers on the following matters:
- An assessment of the implications, in terms of the military threat to the United States and its allies in Europe, of Russian deployment of intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles without restriction. Would the United States need to pursue additional technologies or programs to offset the additional Russian capabilities? If so, what types of technologies or programs and at what cost?
- An assessment of the implications, in terms of the military threat to the United States, of Russian deployment of strategic nuclear weapons without restriction and without U.S. right to conduct inspections in the event of New START Treaty expires without an extension.
- The status of the Administration’s December 2017 announcement of an integrated approach to push Russia back into INF Treaty compliance.
- Measures short of withdrawal, including economic, military and diplomatic options that would increase pressure on Russia for violating the INF Treaty.
- The status of all consultations with allies pertaining to the INF Treaty – and U.S. commitment to closely consult with allies on a plan to develop a joint path forward to maintain international security and stability.
- The Administration’s assessment of the impact that INF Treaty withdrawal and New START expiration could have on the long-term U.S.-Russia strategic stability.
Given the precipitous and unexpected announcement in the past few days of a planned U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, we request that you personally brief our members when we return to Washington, DC the week of November 13. In the meantime, we request a written response to our questions no later than November 2.
Adam Smith, Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee
Eliot Engel, Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Gregory Meeks, Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia