After the end of World War II, two superpowers emerged with conflicting ideologies and unprecedented military capabilities. Their heightened confrontation eventually led to the arms race.
Over time, the parties realised that nuclear weapons were the key to global military dominance. The main forces of the military-industrial complex of both countries were committed to building up nuclear potential, primarily missiles equipped with nuclear warheads.
Such weapons are considered ballistic or cruise missiles, depending on the trajectory. They are divided into three categories of flight range: intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), medium-range missiles and shorter-range missiles
Until the 1970s, emphasis was placed on strategic bombers, medium and shorter-range missiles, and submarine-launched missiles.
This was due to the fact that ICBM technology at that time had serious shortcomings and missiles took too long to reach their targets. Their launch could be discovered, and the leader of the country under attack had the opportunity to eliminate the first volley and retaliate.
Later, in the 1970s, the respective doctrines changed. The technology of ICBMs and INF systems has been considerably modernised. The parties began to look for an opportunity to carry out a “decapitation attack”: the quick destruction of the enemy’s command and communications before a decision to make a retaliatory strike could be made.
In real life, this meant an emphasis shift from ICBMs to shorter and medium-range missiles. It was planned to deploy missiles on the territory of third countries in their zones of influence.
The phased build-up of shorter and medium-range missiles led to hundreds of missiles accumulating at the borders of the USSR, Europe and the USA, which did not leave any opportunity to cancel a nuclear strike.
This confrontation culminated in the Cuban missile crisis, when the USSR and the USA were one step from destroying each other with shorter- and medium-range missiles.
In 1983, a nuclear war almost began due to a chance error. Because a false alarm was sounded by the Soviet missile warning system, all nuclear forces, including the INF systems, went on alert.
To reduce the likelihood of a global conflict and ease tension, starting in the early 1980s the United States and the USSR started sitting down at the negotiating table.
For a long time, the parties took a tough stance; for example, US President Reagan at the beginning of his term and the Soviet general secretaries Brezhnev and Andropov. The USSR adhered to a “package” view of the issue, adding a ban on space weapons, which did not suit the United States.
The situation took off the ground when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. Under him, the position of the USSR began to soften.
He introduced a moratorium on the deployment of missiles in Czechoslovakia and East Germany and proclaimed a course towards the phased elimination of nuclear weapons throughout the world.
The INF Treaty was signed in Washington in 1987 and entered into force in 1988. On behalf of the USSR, it was signed by General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev. On behalf of the United States, it was signed by US President Ronald Reagan.
Under the Treaty, the parties sought to destroy all medium- and shorter-range missile systems within three years. In addition, the parties promised not to produce, test or deploy such weapons in the future.
Over three years, the USSR dismantled 1,846 missile systems, the United States – 846. Thus, a whole class of weapons was destroyed. For a quarter century, the threat of sudden nuclear strikes disappeared.
In the 2000s, there was the threat that the INF Treaty would be terminated. The geopolitical situation has changed significantly. Relations between the US and Russia have worsened.
New countries developed nuclear arsenals, primarily China and other Asian countries. They are not bound by the INF Treaty, which jeopardised the positions of the United States and Russia in the Pacific.
In addition, drones and missile defense systems, new and efficient types of weapons, can also be interpreted as prohibited by the INF Treaty.
The United States and Russia began to look for a way out of the Treaty. The United States accused Russia of testing missiles with a range of more than 500 km.
In turn, Russia indicated the use of US target missiles, of long-range UAVs and the deployment in Romania of missile defense systems that can be used with missiles banned under the INF Treaty.
On February 1, US President Donald Trump announced the start of the withdrawal from the INF Treaty. In accordance with the Treaty, this period takes 6 months.
The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced the beginning of Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty.
After 6 months, on August 2, the INF Treaty expired.
Now the parties are waiting for 2021, when the New START treaty, concluded in 2010 by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, expires.
Time will show whether the INF Treaty will be replaced by an updated agreement on the control of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles.
However, it is now clear that negotiations will not be simple, as they are likely to include a much larger number of countries and new types of weapons.