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US to withdraw officially from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Marcel Kusch/dpa/AFP | Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are depicted on a float tearing up the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as the EU burns under their feet, at the Rose Monday carnival street parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, on March 4, 2019.

The United States will officially withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on Friday, clearing the way for a new arms race with Russia -- and throwing China into the mix.

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The treaty -- concluded by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 -- limited the Cold War powers' medium-range missiles, both conventional and nuclear.

Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump's administration announced its intention to ditch the agreement, accusing Moscow of repeatedly violating its terms -- a charge Russia denied.

"I think the INF Treaty has served us well, but it only works if both parties comply," new US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said recently.

"The United States will remain in compliance with all of our obligations until August 2nd -- and after that point in time, we will continue to pursue what is in our best interest," he told lawmakers.

US to accelerate development of new missiles

Indeed, the US is to accelerate its development of new cruise and ballistic missile systems following its withdrawal, the Pentagon said later on Friday.

Accusing Russia of "sustained and repeated violations" of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US had already begun work to develop "mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems."

As the United States had "scrupulously complied" with its obligations to the 1987 treaty until its formal withdrawal, "these programmes are in the early stages," Esper said in a statement.

"Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia's actions.

"The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity," he added.

Washington formally launched the procedure of leaving the treaty on February 1 -- a six-month process.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill suspending Moscow's participation on July 3.

Unless something changes in the coming days, the mutual withdrawal will spell the end of the deal, which eliminated a range of missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (310-3,420 miles).

That paved the way for the mothballing of Russian SS-20 missiles and American Pershing missiles deployed in Europe.

France warns of increased instability

For its part, the Quai d’Orsay has expressed regret over the treaty’s demise: "France regrets that no solution could be found to uphold the Intermedia-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty," a spokesman for the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Paris also found it regrettable that "Russia has not responded to requests for explanations or calls for a consistent application of the treaty formulated repeatedly last year," the statement said.

But even though European nations have expressed concerns about the consequence of a new arms race, NATO endorsed the US position, saying Russia's 9M729 missile had violated the INF agreement.

Moscow insists the new projectile has a maximum range of 480 kilometres -- within INF parameters.

In the end, the death of the INF Treaty suits Washington just fine, as former defence secretary Ash Carter said in early July.

"From the military point of view, not the political point of view, it's not so bad," Carter said at a conference at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"We can make good use of what we call conventional prompt strike."

Next-generation technology

The United States has pledged not to deploy new nuclear-armed missiles in Europe, but made no such promise on the deployment of conventional weapons.

Advances in technology have allowed for the development of mid-range missiles that are much more precise than those made 30 years ago, explained career diplomat William Courtney, who is now a senior fellow at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corporation.

"The technology has changed so much that is makes it militarily attractive," said Courtney, an arms control expert.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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