Updated May 2021
- The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF, or The Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles) was signed on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988.
- The treaty required parties to eliminate nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that are used at distances ranging from 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
- The two countries eliminated intermediate-range nuclear weapons by 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles.
- After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 the treaty was “multilateralized” to include 12 Soviet successor states.
- On August 2, 2019, the United States officially withdrew from the INF treaty. President Trump cited Russia’s noncompliance by developing and fielding a treaty-violating missile system as the reason for leaving.
Why It Mattered
The treaty prevented the production, flight-testing, and deployment of a destabilizing class of weapons and inhibited an arms race of intermediate-range missile systems.
The INF treaty was in part a response to the Soviet Union’s deployment of SS-20 missiles in the mid-1970s. Anxiety about this decision led to NATO’s “dual-track” decision to engage the USSR in arms control negotiations and deploy American intermediate-range weapons in Western Europe to counter Soviet INF missiles. The INF treaty set an important precedent for arms control negotiations by eliminating an entire class of weapons that were deployed by both parties and considered to be key to both nations’ security strategies. The treaty was also the first arms control agreement between the United States and Soviet Union that reduced each country’s nuclear delivery systems.
What the Treaty Did
The treaty listed the specific types of ground-launched missiles and associated equipment that the United States and the USSR were required to destroy. The United States had to dismantle all Pershing II, Pershing IA, and Pershing IB ballistic missiles and BGM-109G cruise missiles, and the USSR had to dismantle its SS-20, SS-4, SS-5, SS-12, and SS-23 ballistic missiles and SSC-X-4 cruise missiles. Equipment associated with these missiles (e.g. training missiles and launchers) also had to be destroyed, but warheads could be reconfigured for use on other systems not controlled by the treaty. And finally, neither party could produce missiles that matched the treaty’s definition of “intermediate-range.”
In addition to national technical means of verification (NTM) via satellites and remote sensing capabilities, the INF was the first arms control treaty between both countries to incorporate “intrusive” methods of verification, including extensive exchanges of data and inspections. Baseline inspections were performed in 1988 to establish each country’s size and location of intermediate-range nuclear forces. The INF treaty provided for up to 20 short-notice inspections per year at specific sites designated in the treaty agreement for the first three years after the treaty entered into force, 15 such inspections per year for the next five years, and ten such inspections per year for the following five years. These inspections ended in 2001. The INF treaty also created the Special Verification Commission, which operated as a forum through which the two parties could theoretically resolve questions about compliance.
Russian Violation: Cruise Missile Testing and Deployment
The United States formally accused the Russian Federation of testing and deploying a cruise missile, known as the 9M729 or the SSC-8, in violation of the INF treaty. The U.S. first brought this issue before Congress in 2011, and raised the issue with Russia in 2013 after it became clear that the missile being developed was ground-launched. (The INF did not restrict air- or sea-launched cruise missiles). Despite the American objections, Russia has since deployed three battalions of the missile, with another battalion located at a training site. Russia denies violating the treaty.
Potential Russian Violation: Ballistic Missile Testing
The RS-26 Rubezh missile is claimed by Russia as a strategic intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – with a long range exempting it from the treaty – but some analysts allege that it has been tested at distances that violated the INF treaty. Though Russia has confirmed that multiple RS-26 Rubezh tests have been within the distance threshold of the INF treaty, other tests landing further than the maximum threshold put the missile outside of banned items under the treaty. The U.S. government has not alleged that any Russian ballistic missile tests violated the INF treaty.
Alleged U.S. Violations
In response to allegations from the United States, Russia issued counter-claims that the United States was in violation of the treaty.
- Missile Defense Targets: The United States has developed target missiles in order to test missile defense systems. Russia alleges that one of these target missiles, the Hera, may have violated the INF treaty due to its 1,000 kilometer range and its composition of old ballistic missile motors that share properties to intermediate-range missiles. The United States argued that as a booster missile, Hera was permitted under treaty rules. Additionally, according to the U.S. government, target missiles have never been tested or deployed for weapons delivery.
- Arming Drones: Russia has suggested that American unmanned aerial vehicles – colloquially referred to as drones – that fly within INF treaty ranges broke the terms of the agreement. The United States argued that because drones are not missiles, the treaty did not regulate them.
- Missile Defense: Russia has expressed dissatisfaction with the American European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense system, which involves the installation of MK-41 launchers on land in Romania and Poland. MK-41 launchers are typically used on Aegis ships to launch cruise missiles. Russia argued that these launchers could be used at ranges that violated the INF treaty, but the United States claimed that the launchers used in the Aegis Ashore EPAA program would not be capable of launching cruise missiles, and therefore the U.S. was in full compliance with the treaty.