The “suspension” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty announced on Friday by Secretary of State Pompeo started the six-month countdown to bring the US out of the Treaty. However, the US will immediately consider themselves free to test and deploy weapons of the type prohibited by the Treaty.
The type of weapons that the Treaty banned was intermediate-range ground-based nuclear missiles (with a range between 500 and 5,500 km). The nuclear missiles deployed in Europe in the ‘80s belonged to that class: the Pershing 2 ballistic missiles deployed by the United States in West Germany, as well as the ground-based cruise missiles deployed by the US in Britain, Italy, West Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, with the aim of defending the European allies from the SS-20 ballistic missiles that the Soviet Union had deployed on its own territory.
The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan, eliminated all missiles of that class, including those deployed at Comiso in Sicily. The INF treaty has been questioned in Washington ever since the US perceived a decrease in their strategic advantage over Russia and China. In 2014, the Obama administration accused Russia—without proof, according to the Russians—of having tested a cruise missile (model 9M729) that belongs to the category prohibited by the Treaty. In 2015, the same administration announced that, given the violation of the INF Treaty by Russia, the United States were considering responses which could include the deployment of ground-based missiles in Europe.
The plan to abandon the Treaty was followed through by the Trump administration. For the 2018 budget, Congress authorized funding to “establish a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers.” For its part, Moscow denied that its cruise missile violated the Treaty, and accused Washington in turn of having installed bases for launching anti-missile interceptors in Poland and Romania (part of the Aegis “missile shield” system), which could also be adapted for launching cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. In this context, the geographical situation should be kept in mind: while a US intermediate-range nuclear missile deployed in Europe can strike at Moscow, a similar missile deployed by Russia on its own territory can strike at European capitals, but not at Washington.
From Russia’s perspective, the US deploying missiles in Europe is as if Russia were to install its own intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Mexico.
The US’s plan to scuttle the INF Treaty has gotten full support from its European NATO allies. The North Atlantic Council stated on 4 December 2018 that “Russia now has a last chance to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty,” accusing the Russians of developing a missile system that “undermines Allied security.” On Friday, North Atlantic Council said that the allies “fully support” the actions of the United States “suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty,” and urged Russia to “use the remaining six months to return to full and verifiable compliance to preserve the INF Treaty.” On Saturday, Putin said that Russia was likewise suspending its participation in the Treaty, signaling its certain demise.
The European Union also contributed to the sinking of the Treaty when it voted against the UN resolution tabled by Russia on Dec. 21 on the “Preservation of and compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” which was rejected in the General Assembly by 46 votes to 43, with 78 abstentions. Given that 21 out of its 27 states are members of NATO (plus Britain, in the process of leaving the EU), the European Union has thus fully adopted NATO’s position, which in turn has rallied behind that of the United States.
In essence, the European Union has given the green light to the possible installation of new US nuclear missiles in Europe, including in Italy. On a matter of such great importance, the Conte government, like its predecessors, fell unquestioningly in line behind both NATO and the EU. Not a single voice rose up from anywhere on the Italian political spectrum to request that the Italian Parliament should have decided on Italy’s vote on the INF Treaty resolution at the UN.
Nor has there been a single voice in Parliament to demand that Italy should comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and adhere to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would force the US to remove their B61 nuclear bombs from Italian national territory and cancel their plans to install the even more dangerous B61-12 models from the first half of 2020.
With US nuclear weapons and strategic military installations (such as MUOS and JTAGS in Sicily) on Italian soil, Italy is facing increasing dangers as an advanced outpost for US nuclear forces, and thus inevitably a target for the Russian ones.
An intermediate-range nuclear missile takes 6-11 minutes to reach and destroy its target. A perfect example of what kind of defense of our sovereignty—enshrined in the Constitution—and our security the current government is achieving for us, barring the gates against migrants but opening them widely for US nuclear weapons.