By: Debora MacKenzie for New Scientist, Feb. 5, 2019
A key nuclear arms treaty is facing oblivion, as the US and Russia accuse each other of violating it. Last week, US president Donald Trump announced his attention to leave the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty(INF) if Russia does not give up a missile which the US says breaches the agreement. Russia denies that it does.
Under the treaty, the US and Russia are banned from having ground-launched missiles, nuclear or not, that can fly from 500 to 5500 kilometres. The US says Russia’s 9M729 missiles can fly that far, thus breach the treaty, and arms experts agree. Russia denies it, and charges that the US’s Aegis anti-missile launchers could breach the treaty.
The dispute, say experts, could be resolved by inspections and changes to both systems, but neither side wants this, so the treaty will expire in six months.
Intermediate-range missiles are intrinsically destabilising, says Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association in Washington DC, because they can hit a target in minutes. Countries fear attack without warning, raising tensions and making escalation in a crisis more likely.