INF Treaty Current Affairs - 2020

US test-fires Medium-Range Cruise Missile after exiting INF treaty

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) announced successful testing of a medium-range ground-launched cruise missile, just weeks after withdrawing from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a Cold War-era pact with Russia eliminating that class of nuclear-capable weapons.

Key Highlights

The missile was launched from US Navy-controlled San Nicolas Island off the coast of Los Angeles in California.

The test cruise missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) of flight. INF treaty banned development of missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometres.

The missile tested was a version of nuclear-capable Tomahawk cruise missile. The ground-launched version of Tomahawk was removed from service after INF Treaty was ratified.

Although the missile was described as ‘conventionally configured’ by US, which means it is not nuclear-equipped, but the launch was a sign of US increasing its nuclear war-fighting capabilities in wake of the collapse of INF Treaty on 2 August 2019.

Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform DoDs development of future intermediate-range capabilities.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banned all land-based missiles, conventional and nuclear, that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. It worked towards abolishing a class of nuclear arms being deployed by United States and the then-Soviet Union that left Europe most threatened.


Many fear that the end of INF, which US accused Russia of having violated in recent years, will lead to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.

In early August 2019 US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper highlighted that since US is no longer bound by INF therefore it had already begun work to develop mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.

Defence secretary stressed that US was not embarking on a new arms race as currently US don’t have plans to build nuclear-tipped INF-range weapons. However US would like to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, a move that would likely anger China, which was not party to the INF.

US, Russia suspend INF Treaty

With the formal announcement by the United States about the withdrawal from the INF treaty, Russia has followed the suit and declared the suspension of the treaty. Defence analysts fear about the arms race due to the suspension of the treaty.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

The features of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987 were:

  • The treaty prohibited the United States and the Soviet Union from possessing, testing and deploying ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (300 to 3,400 miles).
  • The treaty covers all types of ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles whether their payload is conventional or nuclear.
  • The treaty exempted the air-launched and sea-based missile systems in the same range.

Under the treaty, both US and Russia had destroyed 846 and 1,846 missiles respectively.

How the INF treaty aided in Diffusing Tensions?

Due to the limited range, Short flight times and unpredictable flight patterns, It was difficult to detect the short and medium ranges missiles. As a result, there was a threat of nuclear war in Europe which is sandwiched between Russia and US.

The missiles were designed chiefly to fight a theatre nuclear war in Europe. It exacerbated crisis instability and increased the chances of an accidental nuclear war.

Hence the destruction of these missiles under the provisions of the INF treaty was highly beneficial towards enhancing both regional and global security.

What would happen now?

Both Russia and US would indulge in the development of these short and medium ranges missiles. There could be an arms race with EU joining the race as a third entity. Since these missiles are mobile, hard to detect, nuclear-capable and can reach European cities, they have hardly any warning time at all so they reduce the threshold for any potential use of nuclear weapons in a conflict. This would lead to instability and trust deficit.