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Maas: INF collapse could herald new arms race

August 2, 2019

Germany has warned that the end of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force treaty could have major consequences for peace and security in Europe. According to Russia's Foreign Ministry, the United States has killed the INF.

A soldier guards the new Russian 9M729 missile during its demonstration to foreign military attache
Image: picture-alliance/Sputnik/V. Astapkovich

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Friday's expiry of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty meant that Europe was "losing part of its security."

The landmark arms control accord, signed in 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned medium-range land-based missiles, which are capable of reaching Russia from Western Europe and vice versa.

 "On August 2, 2019, at the initiative of the US side, the treaty between the Soviet Union and the US on the elimination of their medium-range and shorter-range missiles ... was terminated," Russia's Foreign Ministry announced in a statement released Friday.

In his own statement, however, Maas appeared to blame the Kremlin for the accord's collapse: "We regret that Russia failed to do what was necessary to save the INF treaty," he said.

Read moreLandmark INF nuclear arms treaty is history: What now?

Heiko Maas
Maas has called for new arms control rules to prevent escalating tensionsImage: imago-images/photothek/X. Heinl

In February, the United States formally announced that it would withdraw from the pact after accusing Russia of developing weapons that violated the terms of the treaty. Moscow responded by saying it would pull out as well.

According to US officials, Russia's 9M729 missile is capable of breaching the 500-5,500-kilometer (300-3,500-mile) range limit stipulated in the agreement. Moscow has denied the charge, and accused the US of wanting to pursue a new arms race.

Read moreWhat is the INF nuclear treaty?

A map showing missile deployments eliminated by the INF treaty

Heightened threat

Experts say the treaty's breakdown is troubling because medium-range rockets fired from Russia could be used to attack Europe at short notice.

"With the end of the INF treaty, Europe is losing part of its security," Maas said. "I am convinced that today we must again succeed in agreeing rules on disarmament and arms control in order to prevent a new nuclear arms race."

Read moreOpinion: Europe caught in a dangerous nuclear trap

Those sentiments were echoed by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said the accord had served as "an invaluable brake on nuclear war."

Speaking to reporters in New York on Thursday, he said the treaty's demise would "likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles."

"Regardless of what transpires, the parties should avoid destabilizing developments and urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control," he added.

Keeping arms control alive

Foreign Minister Maas called on Moscow and Washington to safeguard the last major arms control deal between their two countries, which is set to run out in 2021. The New START treaty was signed in 2010 to curb strategic nuclear missiles, and can be extended for five years if both parties agree. 

Maas also said Germany would use the EU presidency next year to push ahead with an initiative for new forms of arms control.

nm/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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