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U.S.-Russia Arms Control Treaty Ends


The Reagan-era treaty that banned an entire class of nuclear weapons is now dead. The Trump administration says it cannot be resurrected. The U.S. blames Russia, accusing Moscow of violating the treaty for years. Russia denies that. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, there are worries of a new arms race in Europe.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Trump administration says it gave Russia every chance to come back into compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. Instead, U.S. officials say Russia has not only produced and tested a system that violates the treaty, it's also deployed the missiles in western Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is worried about that.


JENS STOLTENBERG: The new Russian missiles are nuclear-capable, mobile and hard to detect. They can reach European cities with only minutes of warning time.

KELEMEN: Stoltenberg says NATO will respond in a measured and responsible way.


STOLTENBERG: We will not mirror what Russia does. We don't want a new arms race. And we have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.

KELEMEN: But the Trump administration is planning to test a new missile in the coming weeks, though officials say they are still years away from deploying it. Russia says the U.S. is just trying to destroy all international agreements that don't suit them.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is sounding the alarm.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: The world will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war, and this will likely heighten, not reduce, the stress posed by ballistic missiles.

KELEMEN: The INF treaty didn't cover other countries' missile programs - that was another U.S. complaint about it - but it did provide what former Senator Sam Nunn describes as a guardrail against the U.S.-Russian nuclear rivalry. And he worries that this guardrail has come down.

SAM NUNN: So I think we've entered into a period of nuclear instability with Russia. When I say we, I mean NATO and the United States. And right now, it doesn't appear that either country recognizes the peril.

KELEMEN: Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin have said they want to start talking again about arms control, but Nunn, founder of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, says that hasn't happened yet, and he fears there's little trust between Washington and Moscow.

NUNN: We are sort of sleepwalking towards greatly increased risk. Now, I'm not forecasting that we're going to have a nuclear war tomorrow. I'm saying that everything, in terms of the nuclear dangers, means that you work every single day to reduce those nuclear risks. And we're really simply not doing that.

KELEMEN: The former senator and many other arms control advocates are encouraging the U.S. and Russia to at least extend the New START agreement, the last remaining treaty limiting both countries' nuclear arsenals. The Trump administration has not committed to doing that.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.