Securing and Expanding Past Achievements in INF Arms Control

| Working Paper

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty helped to end the Cold War, contributing greatly to the stability of Europe at a tense time, and setting the stage for the first negotiated reductions in strategic nuclear forces. The INF Treaty deserves not only a decent burial, but also an organized effort to secure a follow-on agreement that would preserve some of the achievements of the treaty and widen limits on the most dangerous INF weapons likely to emerge in its wake.


The most important goal for arms control in the foreseeable future is to avoid the use of nuclear weapons. But the two largest nuclear powers do not separate this goal from their perceived need to credibly threaten the use of nuclear weapons to deter attack and resist (or exercise) coercion. Herein lies the rub, for both the US and Russia fear that de-nuclearization could render them or their allies more vulnerable to aggression.

This paper provides a re-examination of what kind of non-strategic nuclear arms control regime could best serve the security interests of Russia, the United States, NATO Europe, and the wider international community in the context of a changed security landscape and technological advances since the end of the Cold War. Given the countervailing pressures for and against development and deployment of new INF missiles, it is urgent to begin considering the framework for a future agreement. Given the countervailing pressures for and against development and deployment of new INF missiles, it is urgent to begin considering the framework for a future agreement

Policy recommendations

  • The first and easiest step would be to retain the INF Treaty’s ban on ground-based ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. None of the five parties to the treaty have deployed such weapons, nor prioritized research and development on such weapons in the past. However, the Trump administration is now planning to test a 3,000-4,000 km range ballistic missile in November 2019. It also intends to develop another mobile, land-based medium-range missile with a range of between 1,000-3,000 km. Both actions may be blocked by opposition from Democrats in the House of Representatives. Retaining the ban would mitigate Russian concerns about extremely short-warning attacks on Moscow command centers, as well as concerns among European members of NATO about comparable Russian attacks. The global ban on these U.S. and Russian systems would also help to dampen arms race dynamics in Asia.

  • One step for a new INF arms control framework would be to ban the nuclear-arming of all ground-based cruise missiles or drones of any range, leap-frogging past disagreements over the range of Russia’s 9M729 and of the distinction between U.S. cruise missiles and armed drones, and the future challenge of creating a new category of limits on ground-launched cruise missiles of intercontinental range – such as on Russia’s nuclear-powered SSC-X-9 Skyfall (KY30 Burevestnik).

  • Another step would be to extend a nuclear-arming ban to all sea- and air-based non-strategic missiles. This would be consistent with the current U.S. practice of deploying only conventionally-armed cruise missiles on its warships, but it would require Russia to do likewise. It would also limit deployment of air-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles to strategic nuclear delivery vehicles such as heavy bombers, offering a net benefit to Russia, given the U.S. potential to exploit its tactical aircraft as nuclear-ALCM delivery vehicles along Russia’s periphery.

  • An additional step would be to ban the arming of any non-strategic delivery vehicle with nuclear gravity bombs, like the B61-12 to be carried by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If the INF Treaty’s ban on land-based non-strategic nuclear-capable missiles is going to be abandoned, the sides should at least consider what is salvageable and how a future agreement could achieve similar or even enhanced benefits. This would offer Russia achievement of its long-standing objective – ending the nuclear mission of NATO tactical aircraft delivering U.S. nuclear bombs. Given the marginal military role of such systems, terrorism concerns about storage facilities, and growing popular opposition in some NATO basing countries, returning the weapons to the U.S. mainland would also have advantages for the United States and possibly even for NATO cohesion.


  • Andrei Zagorski

    Andrei Zagorski is Head of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution, Center for International Security at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), where he served as Vice-Rector (1992-1999).