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Global security pacts in jeopardy? Mason experts discuss INF treaty, NATO

February 7, 2019

Richard Kauzlarich

The potential U.S. withdrawal from a nuclear missiles treaty makes it less likely that Washington, D.C., can persuade Moscow into even minimal compliance with the agreement that protects U.S. allies in Europe, said Mason visiting professor and former U.S. ambassador Richard Kauzlarich.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Feb. 1 that the United States would exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) due to what he said was Russia’s creation of banned weapons. Pompeo said the United States will withdraw completely from the treaty in six months unless Moscow ends its INF violations. Russia has said it will mirror the United States’ withdrawal, formally dismantling the agreement.

Leaving the pact—which has been in place since 1987—is not how Kauzlarich recommended handling the situation.

“We should not have played into Russia’s hands,” Kauzlarich said. “[Russia] should have been confronted by a major diplomatic effort under U.S. leadership that called them on the treaty violation.”

That didn’t happen because Trump doesn’t want the treaty to survive, Kauzlarich said.

“This is part of a larger pattern of Trump administration decisions to vacate multilateral trade and security agreements, which have been at the foundation of U.S. foreign and security policy,” Kauzlarich said. “It is a mistake—we gain no advantage and are threatened with a return to an arms race not just with Russia, but [with] China as well.”

Colin Dueck

Others believe the decision to exit the treaty is controversial but defensible.

“All relevant observers outside of Russia agree that Moscow is in serious, long-standing, material violation of the treaty,” said Colin Dueck, a professor at Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “Under these circumstances, it’s not clear why the United States should constrain only itself by remaining a party.”

Dueck doesn’t feel an armed conflict is necessarily on the horizon.

“[The Russians] have no desire for open conflict with the United States,” Dueck said. “The chief necessity here is robust deterrence.”

INF is not the only arrangement that Trump has considered withdrawing from. NATO is also on that list, and it has Kauzlarich worried because pulling out, he said, would mean leaving the most successful mutual security arrangement in history.

How serious is Trump’s threat to pull out?

“The vast majority of statements by [Trump] and his administration since first entering office have actually reaffirmed America’s underlying commitment to NATO,” Dueck said. “Pulling out would indeed be a mistake, and plenty of people inside this administration understand that.”

Richard Kauzlarich can be reached at 703-993-9652 or rkauzlar@gmu.edu.   

Colin Dueck can be reached at 703-993-9349 or cdueck@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Mariam Aburdeineh at 703-993-9518 or maburdei@gmu.edu.

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.