WASHINGTON — The federal Liberal government laid the blame at Russia's feet Friday after the United States pulled out of a 30-year-old nuclear missile treaty, rekindling Cold War fears and prompting fresh concerns about an escalating arms race.
Russia has for years been alarming the U.S. and NATO allies alike by flouting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, "with impunity" and in plain sight of the world, President Donald Trump declared in a statement.
"The United States has fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years, but we will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions," he said.
"We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other. We will move forward with developing our own military response options and will work with NATO and our other allies and partners to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct."
Watch: More on the Cold War pact
The decision comes as no surprise, given fruitless U.S. efforts to convince Russia to abide by the terms of the pact, the first such measure to ban an entire class of weapons: ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of up to 5,500 kilometres. That's a little more than the distance from Vancouver to St. John's, and twice that from Moscow to Paris.
Cruise missiles are guided and powered and typically fly close to the ground, which makes them difficult for current missile-defence systems to shoot down.
Since 2017, Russia has deployed four battalions of the 9M729 cruise missile, up from three a few months ago, increasing its stockpile to nearly 100 of the missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Canada and NATO both sided with the U.S., making it clear that Russia's aggression and intransigence is responsible for the imminent demise of a pivotal arms-reduction agreement seen as central to the end of the Cold War.
"Canada strongly supports global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, which are essential to keeping the world safe. However, arms control only works if everyone follows their obligations," Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in a statement.
NATO: 'Russia will bear sole responsibility'
"Russia has failed to comply with this important treaty, and Canada is disappointed that Russia's actions have led to (Friday's) announcement. Russia must come into compliance with this treaty immediately."
NATO concurred: "Allies fully support this action," the military alliance said in a statement. "Russia will bear sole responsibility for the end of the treaty."
The U.S. argues that it was being hamstrung by the treaty at a time when threats are escalating around the world, not only from Russia but China, which is not party to the treaty and which officials fear has gained a significant military advantage in Asia. That cuts both ways: the end of the treaty could also serve Russia's strategic interests.
The move away from disarmament bodes ill for the safety of countless millions around the world, a coalition of activists, prominent Canadians and current and former political and business leaders warned last week in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"Without these treaties," they wrote, "the world would, for the first time since 1972, be without any formal constraints on nuclear arsenals, and would thus face a perilous future of renewed arms races and the heightened danger that political and military confrontations could escalate to nuclear use and widespread planetary annihilation."
The U.S., which started a 60-day clock on its treaty obligations two months ago, will officially suspend the treaty on Saturday and begin the process of withdrawing fully over the next six months, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a briefing in Washington.
Even as he detailed the withdrawal, Pompeo insisted that the risk of nuclear proliferation remains Trump's "highest American national-security interest," and that the U.S. will endeavour to replace an agreement that has stopped working. But in the interim, he said, the damage has already been done.
"We are prepared to enter into negotiations on these complex arms-control issues all around the world, including conversations about the renewal of other arms-control agreements as we move forward," Pompeo said.
"President Trump's mission set is to make sure that any agreement that we entered into has America's best interest — that is, it protects the American people, protects our allies around the world as well, and has provisions that other countries are both capable and willing to comply with, and allow us to verify that they have complied with those agreements."