The treaty for the elimination of medium and short-range nuclear missiles (INF), a landmark of the Cold War signed by Washington and Moscow in 1987, is history since this Friday, the date on which the departure from the United States was formalized, triggering fear of a new global arms race. Washington, which plans this summer to test with missiles banned by the INF, advocates a new model for global nuclear weapons control that includes China for the first time. But it runs the risk of leaving the world without any arms control.

The end of the INF preludes that of the new START treaty, which limits the long-range nuclear weapons of the two powers and which expires in February 2021. The US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has already said that it is unlikely that said treaty be renewed. Thus, for the first time in half a century, all binding and verifiable legal limitations to the growth of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals would disappear.

NATO has blamed Russia on Friday for the failure of the INF, which decisively contributed to global security for three decades, and has supported Washington in its decision to withdraw from it. The United States accuses Moscow of the death of the treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, because it claims that for years it has violated its terms, developing missiles vetoed by it that threaten the United States and its European allies.

“Russia is solely responsible for the death of the treaty,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Friday. “For the past six months, the United States gave Russia one last chance to correct its breaches. But, as it has done for many years, Russia decided to stick with missiles that violate the agreement, rather than re-adhere to the obligations of this treaty. “

But it is not just Russia the nuclear power that the United States seeks to counter with its new missiles. Trump advanced in October 2018 his intention to withdraw from the treaty and on February 1 he officially announced it, opening a mandatory six-month period, which expired this Friday, for Moscow to fulfill its obligations. In all this time, it has been sending signals that China, which is not subject to any arms control agreement and has spent years investing in defense, was a determining factor in that decision.

Washington today considers the Asian giant a more relevant long-term strategic rival than Russia, and has invited Beijing to be part of “a new era of arms control” that includes other nations with powerful military forces. The US Department of Defense estimates that China’s nuclear arsenal consists of about 290 weapons, a significantly smaller number than the more than 1,300 nuclear warheads each, the United States and Russia. But the rapid development and increasing capacity of the Chinese arsenal worry the Pentagon.

“From now on, the US urges Russia and China to join us in this opportunity to offer real security results to our countries and to the entire world,” said Pompeo.

Beijing has made it clear that it has no intention of negotiating the reduction of its nuclear capacity, and the more the Chinese arsenal grows, the less likely it is that the US and Russia will decide to reduce theirs. That, added to the difficulty that Washington and Moscow currently manage to agree on a common program for arms control of the future, calls into question the multilateral strategy of the Trump Administration.

So far, the United States has given up testing missiles that violated the treaty. But since this Friday it is free to do so. And it plans to test already in the coming weeks with intermediate-range missiles. Specifically, a version of the Tomahawk cruise missile, modified to be launched from land and not from ships, which could be ready to be deployed on the ground in a year and a half.

Russia has announced through a statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “at the initiative of the US side, the treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States on the elimination of its short-range and intermediate-range missiles is terminated.” Washington alleged in its day, as an argument to get out of the treaty, Moscow’s refusal to destroy a cruise missile that violates the conditions of the pact. It is a 1,700-kilo projectile that is eight meters long: the Novator 9M729 (SSC-8, according to the NATO classification). According to the US, it violates the treaty by exceeding 500 kilometers in range.

But the tensions come from far away. For years, Washington and Moscow have been accusing each other of violating the treaty, which prohibits the two countries from manufacturing, deploying, or conducting short-range (500-1,000 km) and medium-range (1,000-5,500 km) missiles. Under his protection, more than 2,600 of these weapons have been destroyed.

The end of the historic treaty, at a time when the risk of a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran grows, resurrects nuclear geopolitics. And it contributes to returning the world to an era, that of the risk of a nuclear conflict, which was already buried.

An escalation of mistrust

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union launched various agreements to control the arms race. The treaty for the elimination of medium and short-range nuclear missiles (INF), which Washington and Moscow signed in the last leg of the Cold War, has served to guarantee global security for three decades. But there have been other pacts, also broken.

Signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbahov, the arms control agreement prohibited all short and medium-range nuclear and conventional missiles (ranging between 500 and 5,500 km) launched from the ground. Those fired from the sea or air were excluded from the agreement.

The deployment by the Soviet Union’s SS-20 missile system in 1979 elicited a response from the US, which placed Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe. The US deployment sparked widespread protests.

In 1991, almost 2,700 missiles had been destroyed.

Under the INF, the two signatory countries were authorized to inspect the opponent’s facilities.

In 2007Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the INF treaty no longer satisfied the interests of his country. It was the Russian response to the United States’ withdrawal in 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), by decision of President George W. Bush.

In 2014President Barack Obama accused Russia of violating the INF treaty after testing a 9m729 cruise missile fired from the ground. Pressure from European allies convinced Obama, and the United States finally decided not to withdraw from the pact during his tenure.

In March 2015Moscow abandoned the Conventional Armed Forces Treaty (CFE), signed in 1992 and a pillar of detente on the Old Continent after the Cold War. The withdrawal underpinned the climate of mistrust between Moscow and NATO generated by the crisis in Ukraine.

The abandonment of the INF treaty it also puts Start III on strategic weapons at risk, which was renewed in 2010 and is theoretically in force until 2021.