The Trump administration has suspended a longstanding Reagan-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia and is expected to pull out of the treaty altogether.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday that the United States will no longer comply with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, accusing the Kremlin of violating the pact by deploying a missile banned by the deal near European borders. Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to admit that the missile violated the treaty and has instead accused the United States of violating the pact by deploying anti-missile systems in Europe, according to the New York Times.
Pompeo said that the announcement kicked off a six-month countdown, after which the United States is expected to fully withdraw from the treaty unless Russia complies with the terms of the pact.
Russia was also accused of violating the treaty by the Obama administration as long ago as 2014.
The decision to pull out of the treaty was previously leaked in October. The Times reported that the move took American allies by surprise.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization issued a statement backing the suspension but stopped short of supporting a full withdrawal, citing their commitment to the “preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation.”
Pompeo acknowledged the possibility of a new arms race during his statement. Afterwards, a senior administration official told reporters that Russia would be to blame for an arms race because it had forced the administration to pull out of the treaty.
“If there’s an arms race, it’s Russia that’s started it,” the official said.
Democrats warned that along with sparking a potential arms race, withdrawing from the treaty removed the only mechanism the U.S. had to keep Russia in check, and said ending the treaty would allow Putin to build up nuclear weapons without repercussions.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said that pulling out of the treaty was another example of America’s “withdrawal” from the world. Trump previously pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and a major trade deal with Asia.
Murphy called the move a “gift” to Russia, adding that “we get no benefit and loads of additional risk.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said there was no doubt Russia has violated the treaty, “but the right path forward is to bring them back into compliance, not free them to produce more nuclear weapons.”
“This decision ignores all of the lessons from the Cold War,” he wrote.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that withdrawing from the treaty “risks precisely the sort of nuclear arms buildup that the treaty was designed to guard against.”
“Unilateral American withdrawal from the treaty allows Putin to expand without constraints development of a class of weapons he has coveted,” he warned.
The Democrats’ concerns echoed former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s comments to CNN in December.
“There are a lot of people now saying ... the Soviets [sic] have been cheating on the INF Treaty, so let's get out,” Powell said. “You do that and guess what? The Soviets aren't cheating anymore, because there is no treaty to cheat. It doesn't make any sense."