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Menendez on INF Treaty Withdrawal

WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today submitted the following statement for the Senate record regarding President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty:

“Mr. President, I rise today to express my deep concerns regarding President Trump’s suspension of U.S. participation in the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and decision to withdraw from the Treaty in six months.

Mr. President, before diving into the substance of this misguided decision, I am compelled, as the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to object to the process.

The President is pulling out of this treaty – a treaty that was approved by the United States Senate by a vote of 93-5 and that has been in force for three decades – without official notice or any meaningful consultation with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the congressional committee charged with responsibility and jurisdiction over treaties, and without the approval of the Senate.

This was despite multiple opportunities to explain the rationale for this decision, including a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on arms control and Russia. In that hearing, senior officials from the Department of State and the Department of Defense provided no indication that a decision to withdraw was even imminent, nor that U.S. forces envisioned any military operational benefit from near-term withdrawal.  

Mr. President, Article 2 of the Constitution endows the President and the Senate with shared power over treaties, including an exceptionally high bar for advice and consent. This President’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the INF – without any meaningful engagement with the Senate, much less the approval of this body – is impossible to square with this shared constitutional power.  

In that vein, I urge all of my colleagues to focus not just on the substance of the President’s decision but also on the process. INF is not alone – it is one of several treaties that the President has jettisoned without any input from the Senate. He is eroding the constitutional powers and institutional prerogatives of this body, and we cannot be silent.

Mr. President, Even if the President had followed a sound process, this decision is misguided on substance. It is another example of the President and his team’s apparent belief that destroying international agreements, with little or no thought given to how to address the underlying problem, is the solution to a complex security issues.

In this case, there is no doubt, what the problem is and where it comes from.

Russia, and Russia alone, bears the responsibility for the degradation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. It has brazenly violated the treaty and has been unwilling to take the steps necessary to come back into compliance.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has succinctly laid out Russia’s efforts to undermine the INF treaty. He stated ‘the Intelligence Community assesses Russia has flight-tested, produced, and deployed cruise missiles with a range capability prohibited by the Treaty.’  

And why is Russia doing this?  Again, according to Director Coats: Russia is developing missiles to ‘target critical European military and economic infrastructure’ with both conventional and nuclear capabilities. Russia is seeking the means to coerce our European and Asian allies by ‘posing a direct conventional and nuclear threat’ to them.  

Russia’s violation of its INF treaty obligations and its nuclear threats against Europe are not particularly surprising. It fits within a pattern of malign behavior that seeks to undermine the security framework that contributed to the peaceful end to the Cold War. Russia has suspended its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and of course violated the core principles of the Helsinki accord by annexing Crimea and invading Ukraine.

The question has never been whether Russia is violating the INF treaty. It is and has been in violation. The question is how the United States should respond.

Throughout the process of trying to bring Russia back into compliance, I have raised serious concerns about the Trump Administration’s approach. As is the case with most major foreign policy challenges facing the United States, the Trump administration lacks a coherent strategy. In this case, they do not appear to have any realistic plan to address the threat that new Russian missile capabilities pose to the interests of the United States and those of our allies.

By withdrawing from INF at this time, the United States is providing Russia with a pass on its obligations and giving them the unfettered and unconstrained opportunity to expand the deployment of their new missile system. The U.S. does not have the assets in place to defend against Russia’s new missile, nor is it anywhere close to developing, manufacturing, and deploying a similar system that would operate as a counter to it.

So the President is shredding the INF treaty without any credible alternative. It’s not just bad policy, it’s dangerous to European security. The path the administration has chosen leaves our allies vulnerable to Russian aggression, and at this moment, there is no recourse for the United States or our allies.

It is within this vein of poor foreign policy planning, that I want to discuss a second issue related to INF. Mr. President, in 2021, the United States will face the decision whether to extend New START. I am extremely concerned that President Trump has no appreciation or understating of the importance of arms control treaties and that this deficiency will lead him to abandon all limitations on U.S-Russian nuclear forces.

We have historically negotiated and entered into agreements with our adversaries recognizing that we are dealing with hostile powers that cannot be trusted. We build in metrics that account for a probability of efforts to deceive and dodge. In high stakes agreements, provisions outlining U.S. intelligence verification and compliance are essential. In the universe of arms control agreements with Russia, we conduct on-site inspections of military bases and facilities, and we require data exchanges in order track the status and makeup of their nuclear forces.

In assessing the value of an arms control agreement, we consider whether our participation in the agreement advances our national security interests.

Let’s be clear: The New START treaty clearly advances vital U.S. national security interests. Through our inspection regime, we are able to verify that Russia is adhering to the limitations the treaty places on the size of Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal. Through our data exchanges and our verification regimes, we gain extremely valuable insights into the size and location of their nuclear forces. 

At a time when Russia is engaged in malign behavior all over the world and Putin is pressing to reassert Russian power, it is critical we maintain key leverage points to protect against a revisionist Russia. New START is one of those points, and I urge my colleagues and the administration that, in light of ongoing Russian compliance with New START, we must extend the treaty for an additional five additional years.

I strongly urge the administration try a new approach and develop a coherent strategy to stabilize our arms control regime. The relationship with the Russian Federation remains a challenge, but we must address these arms control issues and negotiate a durable agreement that ensures stability in our nuclear forces.

Neither an unconstrained nuclear arms race nor blind faith in arms control agreements serve U.S national security interest. American security is best served through a strong, credible deterrent that operates within a legally binding, stable, and constrained arms control environment.”