4th February 2019

Sir Nicholas's Question to the Foreign Office Minister on the USA's proposed withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the need for a NATO response.

I served in the British Army during the cold war, and I was present in this House at the time of the deployment of the INF weapons and the subsequent treaties, so I know the value of them. I entirely support our American allies on this issue, as well as the statement of the Secretary-General of NATO. If we are to move into an era of a lack of arms control agreements, thus leading to a continuing and most dangerous erosion of trust, would the Minister consider encouraging NATO to really press on with its fundamental review of nuclear deterrence—as I suggested, incidentally, to the Secretary of State for Defence only a week ago—to diminish the risk of misunderstanding and misinterpretation and to avoid returning to the worst days of the cold war?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his wise words. I do not think there is much that I can add to what he said, other than to say that I wholeheartedly agree with it and that it is something we should take up, as he rightly says, with the Secretary of State for Defence, the Foreign Office and others.

Vol 654
No. 245
Col. 50


Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Statement from The Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field)


As if to prove that lightning does sometimes strike twice, even in this unnatural world of politics, I am here to address this issue again, as I was on 25 October, deputising for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas, who is once more gallivanting globally. This time he is in Ottawa, where, I am delighted to inform the House, he is in the grip of an even colder spell than we are here—it is minus 7° centigrade, for the record, or so he assured me earlier today.

When I last had the opportunity to respond on this issue in the House last October, President Trump had just announced that it was the intention of the United States to end the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty unless Russia returned to full compliance. Let me once again set out the context. The INF treaty was a 1987 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union that eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 km and 5,500 km. For over three decades now, the INF treaty has played an important role in supporting Euro-Atlantic security, initially removing an entire class of US and Russian weapons, thus making a significant contribution to strategic stability.

While the UK is not a party to this bilateral treaty, we have always made it clear over the years that we ideally wish to see the treaty continue. However, for that to happen, the parties need to comply with its obligations. Sadly, this has not been the case. Despite numerous objections raised by a range of NATO allies going back over five years, Russia has developed new missiles, in direct contravention of the treaty. This includes the covert missile testing, producing and fielding of the 9M729 ground-launch cruise missile system. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said:

“These…missiles are hard to detect. They are mobile. They are nuclear capable. They can reach European cities”.

The US, under both the Obama and Trump Administrations, has made extensive efforts to encourage Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance. It was indeed the Obama Administration who, in 2014, first strongly called out Russia’s non-compliance with this treaty. It is important to acknowledge that, while doing so, the US has continued to meet its obligations under the treaty. However, the US, with the full support of its NATO allies, has been very clear that a situation where the US fully abided by the treaty and Russia did not was not sustainable. On 4 December last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US would suspend its participation in the INF treaty within 60 days—that is, by 2 February 2019— unless Russia returned to compliance.

This constituted an opportunity for Russia to address our shared concerns and to take steps to preserve the treaty. Allies took the opportunity to reiterate this point last month to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, during the NATO-Russia Council meeting. I have to inform the House that Russia has not taken that opportunity. It has offered no credible response, only obfuscation and contradictions designed to mislead. This of course fits a wider pattern of behaviour from Russia aimed at undermining our collective security. We and all NATO allies therefore support the US decision to suspend its participation in the treaty and to trigger the formal withdrawal process. NATO is unified on this process.

It is Russia’s fault alone that we have arrived at this point. President Putin’s statements in the last few days announcing that Russia, too, will suspend its obligations was unsurprising given the fact that it has violated the treaty over the years. Nevertheless, even at this late stage, we urge Russia to change course. The treaty’s six-month withdrawal process offers Russia a final opportunity to return to compliance through the full and verifiable destruction of all its 9M729 systems. That is the best—indeed, the only—way to preserve the treaty.

We remain committed, as do the US and other NATO allies, to preserving effective arms control agreements, but we are also clear that for arms control to be effective, all signatories must respect their obligations. In the meantime, we are working closely with all our NATO allies on the implications for European security. We remain committed to ensuring that NATO has a robust defence posture to deter all threats. As NATO allies said on 2 February:

“NATO continues to closely review the security implications of Russian intermediate-range missiles and will continue to take steps necessary to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the Alliance’s overall deterrence and defence posture. We will continue to consult each other regularly with a view to ensuring our collective security.”

If this treaty falls, we and other NATO allies will hold Russia alone responsible. We urge Russia now to take a different course and to return to full and verifiable compliance.