Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

[op-ed snap] An end to arms control consensus


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CTBT, NPT

Mains level : Implications of INF treaty withdrawal


The U.S. formally quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) pact. The agreement obliged the two countries to eliminate all ground-based missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.

Background of US-Russia nuclear relations

  1. In 1985, the two countries entered into arms control negotiations on three tracks.
    1. The first dealt with strategic weapons with ranges of over 5,500 km, leading to the START agreement in 1991. It limited both sides to 1,600 strategic delivery vehicles and 6,000 warheads. 
    2. A second track dealt with intermediate-range missiles and this led to the INF Treaty in 1987. 
    3. A third track, Nuclear, and Space Talks was intended to address Soviet concerns regarding the U.S.’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) but this did not yield any outcome.

Success of INF

  1. The INF Treaty was hailed as a great disarmament pact even though no nuclear warheads were dismantled.
  2. As it is a bilateral agreement, it did not restrict other countries.
  3. By 1991, the INF was implemented. USSR destroyed 1,846 missiles and the U.S. destroyed 846 Pershing and cruise missiles. 
  4. Associated production facilities were also closed down. 
  5. INF Treaty was the first pact to include intensive verification measures, including on-site inspections.

US history of nuclear behavior

  1. With the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the USSR in end-1991, former Soviet allies were joining NATO and becoming EU members. 
  2. The U.S. was investing in missile defense and conventional global precision strike capabilities to expand its technological lead. 
  3. In 2001, the U.S. announced its unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty).
  4. The US also blamed Russia for not complying with the ‘zero-yield’ standard imposed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This may indicate the beginning of a new nuclear arms race.

Working of INF treaty

  1. The INF Treaty had been under threat for some time. 
  2. The U.S. started voicing concerns about Novator 9M729 missile tests. Russia began production of the missiles. 
  3. Russia blamed the U.S. for deploying missile defense interceptors in Poland and Romania, using dual-purpose launchers that could also launch Tomahawk missiles.
  4. The U.S. used its technological lead to gain an advantage. Russia began modernisation and diversification of its nuclear arsenal.
  5. The U.S.’s 2017 National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) sought a more expansive role for nuclear weapons
  6. With the geopolitical shift to the Indo-Pacific, U.S. believes that the INF Treaty was putting it at a disadvantage compared to China which is rapidly modernising and currently has 95% of its ballistic and cruise missile inventory in the INF range. 


  1. The 2011 New START lapses in 2021 unless extended for a five-year period. It may meet the fate of the INF Treaty. 
  2. The 2018 NPR envisaged the development of new nuclear weapons, including low-yield weapons. 
  3. China is preparing to operate its test site year-round with its goals for its nuclear force. 
  4. CTBT requires ratification by U.S., China, Iran, Israel and Egypt and adherence by India, Pakistan and North Korea. It is unlikely to ever enter into force. 
  5. A new nuclear arms race could just be the beginning. It may be more complicated because of multiple countries being involved. 
  6. Technological changes are bringing cyber and space domains into contention. It raises the risks of escalation.


[Prelims Spotlight] NPT, CTBT

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