With the Trump administration on Friday fulfilling its months-long promise to withdraw from the Cold War-era arms control treaty with Russia—despite warnings that such a move would only win applause from nuclear weapons manufacturers—a group of Democratic lawmakers and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have unveiled a bill that aims to prevent a nuclear arms race.
"The only ones applauding the decision to tear up the INF Treaty are the nuclear weapons manufacturers, eagerly anticipating the kickoff of Cold War II."
—Beatrice Fihn, ICAN
Amid reports that President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was imminent, Sanders and Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) on Thursday introduced the Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019 (pdf).
"There's a reason that kids today don't do duck-and-cover drills in schools and that nobody has bomb shelters in their backyards anymore," declared Merkley, the bill's lead sponsor. "This era of stability is put at great risk by President Trump's decision to unilaterally pull out of the INF Treaty."
"Blowing up the treaty risks the proliferation of nuclear-capable systems by Russia, threatening Europe and jeopardizing decades of bipartisan efforts to reduce nuclear dangers with Russia," he warned. "There is no doubt that that Russia is violating the INF Treaty, but the right path forward is to work to bring them back into compliance, not free them to produce more nuclear weapons."
Under the legislation, "no funds may be appropriated or otherwise made available for the procurement, flight testing, or deployment of a United States shorter- or intermediate-range ground launched ballistic or cruise missile system with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers until the secretary of defense, in concurrence with the secretary of state and the director of national intelligence, submits a report and offers a briefing to the appropriate committees of Congress" that both meet seven specific conditions detailed in the bill.
"Blowing up the treaty risks the proliferation of nuclear-capable systems by Russia, threatening Europe and jeopardizing decades of bipartisan efforts to reduce nuclear dangers with Russia."
—Sen. Jeff Merkley
The proposal came just ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement Friday morning that the United States plans to suspend its obligations under the 1987 arms control treaty on Saturday to begin the six-month withdrawal process, and ultimately "will terminate" it if Russia doesn't come into compliance. Moscow, for its part, has maintained that its ground-launched cruise missile known as the 9M729 does not violate the agreement.
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The move, while widely expected, was met with alarm and frustration:
This is a very serious security situation we are creating by letting the Russians off the hook, perhaps opening the door to a 21st century arms race. Gotta admit that I did not expect to see the word "fantastic" in the statement about it. https://t.co/STuJ4DduGC
— Alexandra Bell (@atomicbell) February 1, 2019
Jesus fucking christ, I thought we’d all agreed that the number of nuclear weapons should be going down. I grew up in the last days of the cold war, and this was kind of one of the big upsides of that. What a backwards lunatic decision. https://t.co/zrF98RYUPS
— Dan Moren (@dmoren) February 1, 2019
"Flipping over the negotiating table and storming out of the room may have worked in real estate, but when you're dealing with nuclear treaties, the risk of misplaying your hand isn't a failed business venture—it's an arms race and possibly nuclear war," Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, an international movement to eliminate nuclear weapons, said Thursday in anticipation of Pompeo's annoucement.
"The only ones applauding the decision to tear up the INF Treaty are the nuclear weapons manufacturers, eagerly anticipating the kickoff of Cold War II," noted Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). "Trump last week began building new nuclear missiles, and [Russian President] Putin has said he will do the same, so we now have a six-month window before the treaty officially dies."
Meanwhile, as the Trump administration has begun production of a new "low-yield" warhead that experts warn increases the chances of war, Democrats in Congress have re-introduced legislation that would prohibit any U.S. president from launching a preemptive nuclear strike.