John Bolton is pushing for the US to withdraw from a cold war-era arms control treaty with Russia, in the face of resistance from others in the Trump administration and US allies, according to sources briefed on the initiative.
Bolton, Donald Trump’s third national security adviser, has issued a recommendation for withdrawal from the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty (INF), which the US says Russia has been violating with the development of a new cruise missile.
Withdrawal from the treaty, which would mark a sharp break in US arms control policy, has yet to be agreed upon by cabinet and faces opposition from within the state department and the Pentagon. A meeting on Monday at the White House to discuss the withdrawal proposal was postponed.
The INF faces a congressionally imposed deadline early next year. An amendment in the 2019 defence spending bill requires the president to tell the Senate by 15 January whether Russia is in “material breach” of the treaty, and whether the INF remains legally binding on the US.
Bolton, who has spent his career opposing arms control treaties, is seeking to shrug off the traditional role of national security adviser as a policy broker between the agencies, and become a driver of radical change from within the White House.
Former US officials say Bolton is blocking talks on extending the 2010 NewStart treaty with Russia limiting deployed strategic nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. The treaty is due to expire in 2021 and Moscow has signaled its interest in an extension, but Bolton is opposing the resumption of a strategic stability dialogue to discuss the future of arms control between the two countries.
The US has briefed its European allies this week about the proposal, sounding out reactions. The briefing alarmed UK officials who see the INF as an important arms control pillar. The treaty marked the end of a dangerous nuclear standoff in 1980s Europe pitting US Pershing and cruise missiles against the Soviet Union’s SS-20 medium-range missiles.
The US alleges Russia is now violating the treaty with the development and deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile, known as the 9M729. Moscow insists the missile does not violate the range restrictions in the INF and alleges in return that a US missile defence system deployed in eastern Europe against a potential Iranian threat can be adapted to fire medium-range offensive missiles at Russia.
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