- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2018

BRUSSELS — The Trump administration will officially begin pulling the U.S. out of a key 30-year-old nuclear treaty with Russia in 60 days unless Moscow takes clear steps to come back into compliance with the pact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday.

While the time frame gives diplomats one last window to cut a deal, the dramatic move set nerves on edge at a gathering of NATO’s top diplomats, raising the prospect of a new Cold War-style arms race that would play out across the continent.

Mr. Pompeo told reporters at NATO headquarters in the Belgian capital that the U.S. has had enough of what it deems flagrant violations by Russia of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, barring the U.S. and Russia from developing an entire class of weapons.

President Trump previously said the U.S. was pulling out of the deal because of suspected cheating by Moscow, but Mr. Pompeo offered the first firm time frame on the withdrawal and said European nations should use the next two months to pressure the Kremlin to change course. At that point, the U.S. would activate the six-month notice for withdrawing from the pact.

“It makes no sense for the United States to remain in a treaty that restrains our ability to respond to Russia’s violations,” the secretary of state said.

The Trump administration and critics of the INF Treaty say that, aside from Russian violations, countries such as China and Iran are not subject to the same ban on medium-range missiles. The treaty, negotiated by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibits only the U.S. and Russia from building or deploying missiles and launch systems with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.

Russia denies violating the INF agreement and argues that some new U.S. weaponry undermines the spirit of the accord. Some private analysts critical of U.S. policy said the unilateral ultimatum issued by Mr. Pompeo fits with what they say is the Trump administration’s misguided contempt for treaties and multilateral agreements in general.

“Rather than offering an ultimatum, the U.S. should have started with intensive diplomacy with Russia to address the concerns of both parties …,” said Paul Kawika Martin, a senior director at the advocacy network Peace Action. “The Trump administration’s propensity to tear up successful treaties makes Americans less safe.”

European ministers welcomed the two-month window for more diplomacy, and many said they agreed with Washington’s critique of the INF deal.

Although the prospect of a U.S. pullout from the treaty has caused unease within NATO amid concern that it would revive painful battles over whether and where to deploy midrange nuclear weapons across Western Europe, the alliance has shown signs this week that it is embracing the administration’s position.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that time is running out for Russia to comply with the INF, echoing U.S. allegations that Moscow’s new 9M729 missile system is a violation of the INF despite Russian denials.

“We all know that the time is running out, that this is not tenable, that we have an arms control agreement that is only respected by one party,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “NATO allies call on Russia to ensure full compliance with the INF treaty in a verifiable and transparent way.”

Focus on Russia

Russia was a main focus of the gathering of top NATO diplomats this week. A senior State Department official told reporters on background that a prime objective of Mr. Pompeo was to prod European capitals to put more effort into issues such as military balance, energy and the crisis in Ukraine.

But Mr. Pompeo came armed with a more confrontational message. He delivered a blistering speech Tuesday morning in defense of Mr. Trump’s lead-from-the-front foreign policy and the administration’s determination to put U.S. national interests ahead of the agendas of flawed international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.

But he said the Trump administration was not to blame for many problems of the postwar international order. Britain’s looming exit from the European Union, he said, should serve as a wake-up call to allies and adversaries alike that the international system needs a major overhaul.

“Under President Trump, we are not abandoning international leadership or our friends in the international system,” he said. “We are acting to preserve, protect and advance an open, just, transparent and free world of sovereign states. This project will require actual, not pretend, restoration of the liberal order among nations.”

In a 20-minute speech before a subdued crowd of about 200 mostly European diplomats, Mr. Pompeo argued that “every nation must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could.”

He denounced the foreign policy establishment argument that “the more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are” and “the more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.”

‘Lack of leadership’

The secretary of state went on to argue that a “lack of leadership” by the U.S. in the years preceding Mr. Trump’s presidency was exploited by “bad actors” such as Iran, Russia and China seeking to advance their own agendas on the global stage.

He argued specifically that China’s development as an economic power did not result in an embrace of democracy by Beijing or regional stability in East Asia. “It led to more political repression and regional provocations,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We welcomed China into the liberal order but never policed their behavior.

“China has routinely exploited loopholes in World Trade Organization rules, imposed market restrictions, forced technology transfers and stolen intellectual property,” he said. “And it knows that world opinion is powerless to stop its Orwellian human rights violations.”

On the INF, Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration will aggressively explore the development and potential strategic deployment of American missile systems that are banned by the pact. But he also sought to address European fears that a buildup of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons across Europe will revive the fierce political battles of the 1980s against a similar deployment.

“European nations can rest assured that as we prepare how we will all protect and create stability in Europe and around the world from the threat of intermediate nuclear range missiles, and those in particular from Russia, that we will be working closely with our European allies and other allies throughout the world,” he said.

But administration critics said the remarks by America’s top diplomat struck a distinctly undiplomatic note at a gathering where nervousness about U.S. security policy was already high and that Mr. Pompeo was trying to take credit for containing fires that his own boss started.

“The Trump administration’s reckless behavior has damaged the institutions built with so much American leadership, blood and treasure,” said a statement by Daniel Baer, former U.S. ambassador for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Secretary Pompeo’s willingness to sign up to a return to great-power competition demonstrates a disrespect for the leadership of Truman and Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan, and a stunning disregard for the lessons of history.”

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