Nuked: The treaty to limit development of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons has come to an end. Why does this matter?


On Friday, 2 August 2019, the US-Russia INF treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty) to disarm (de-activate) nuclear weapons was officially declared dead. 

This deal, which was to be renewed this year, was primarily responsible for ending the ever-present threat of a nuclear war in the world during the 1980s. What went wrong, and why? Let’s take a look.


First, what is the INF? The INF was a historic treaty signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan in 1987. It effectively put an end to the Cold War by banning the usage of all short and medium-range nuclear and non-nuclear missiles (except sea-launched weapons). 

What are these? Powerful weapons! The short-range missiles could potentially have reached their targets in ten minutes! 

Both countries were also allowed to inspect each other’s nuclear installations. This treaty led to over 2500 missiles being destroyed by 1991, which in turn, led to a reduction in tensions worldwide. 

Why is it not being renewed? Both the US and Russia argue that the other has not stuck to the treaty. In February this year, the US Government announced that Russia had violated the treaty by developing a banned missile. The Russians hit back stating that the US’s anti-ballistic missile defence system in Europe was also in violation of the agreement. Other experts also felt that the treaty did not take into account other growing nuclear weapons of China, India, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan and that a new, broader deal might be more effective. 

What now? Experts believe that when the treaty ends, a new arms race will begin. This means that they think that these nations are going to be competing to develop more powerful weapons, faster than the others. 

In addition, the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which limited the number of nuclear warheads of both countries may meet a similar fate. The treaty is to expire in 2021. 

What does the world think? On a BBC website, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded serious when he said that “an invaluable brake on nuclear war” was lost.

“This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles,” he added, urging all parties to “seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control”. 

A man who understands the consequences well is George Shultz, the US Secretary of State who played a big part in getting the original treaty passed. In an interview with Voice of America, he spoke out saying, “When something like the INF goes down the drain almost like nothing, it shows you the degree to which people have forgotten the power of these weapons. 

Amid growing tensions between the countries, we hope that a new treaty, and good sense, come about sooner rather than later.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

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