Missile Misdemeanours: Russia and the INF Treaty Contents


1.The INF Treaty is a landmark Cold War arms control agreement signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987. The Treaty’s central aim was to eliminate an entire class of ground-based intermediate-range missiles and prevent the deployment of these systems in the future by either party.

2.Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 the United States sought full continuation of the Treaty with the six former Soviet states that had inspectable INF facilities in their territory—Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. What was originally a bilateral treaty thus became a multilateral one amongst relevant Soviet successor states.1

3.In the late 2000s concerns began to grow in the United States that Russia was in the process of developing missile systems that violated the terms of the Treaty. The US Government made these concerns public in 2014, and has since then repeatedly sought to engage both with Russia and with European allies to resolve concerns about Russian non-compliance. Russia has at every stage rejected any suggestion that it has violated the Treaty, despite increasing international consensus that there is reliable evidence of a violation. After a political rally on 20 October 2018 US President Donald Trump announced that the United States intended to withdraw from the Treaty. In December, alongside a statement from NATO Foreign Ministers indicating unanimous agreement with the American assessment of Russian violation, the US further announced that it would allow Russia a period of 60 days to return to compliance, failing which it would initiate the formal mechanism of withdrawal within the Treaty. On 1 February, at the expiry of the 60-day period the US issued formal notice of withdrawal—which would become effective six months later. In response Russia stated the next day that it was also intending to withdraw from the Treaty.

4.Although the INF Treaty was originally a bilateral agreement between the US and the USSR and the United Kingdom is not a party, the failure of the Treaty has potentially far-reaching implications for UK defence and security policy. The Treaty has always had particular significance for European security, having been prompted by the need to address the build-up of Soviet intermediate-range missile systems threatening Western Europe from the mid-1970s, and the substantial military and diplomatic consequences this had at that time for European members of NATO, the United Kingdom among them.2 The UK is within range of intermediate-range missiles deployed in Western Russia. Further development in Russian missile capabilities, which have advanced considerably over the last decade, will have an effect on the strategic balance in Europe, including implications for UK Armed Forces rotationally deployed on the continent, from the High North to the Black Sea. NATO’s strategic posture, both conventional and nuclear, may need re-examination in the face of this new challenge. Alongside military considerations, the political and diplomatic consequences for NATO of the Treaty’s demise may also be significant, as may the impact these events have on global arms control agreements more generally.

5.Having resolved to launch an inquiry into the consequences for UK Defence of the failure of the INF Treaty, we put out a call for evidence on 15 November 2018, requesting written submissions on the following points:

The Committee held three oral evidence sessions during the inquiry and received a total of 13 submissions in written evidence. We would like to express our gratitude to all who offered their time and expertise to assist us in our work.

2 Our predecessor Committee raised its concerns on Russian compliance with the INF Treaty in its report of July 2016 on the defence and security implications of a resurgent Russia. See Defence Committee, Russia: Implications for UK Defence and Security, First Report of Session 2016–17, HC 107, paras 33–36

Published: 4 April 2019