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U.S. exit from nuclear treaty could spark countermeasures

President Trump announced over the weekend that the U.S. will quit the 1987 nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Trump claims that Russia has violated the terms. Russia is now warning of countermeasures if the U.S. follows through. Judy Woodruff speaks to Richard Burt, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, and Rebeccah Heinrichs, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the President Trump has announced his intention to pull the United States out of a landmark Cold War nuclear weapons treaty struck 30 years ago with the Soviet Union.

    So, what would the effect of that be? And is the treaty outdated, as the president claims?

    It was 1987, and President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev celebrated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as common Cold War tensions.

    Flash forward to this past weekend and President Trump's decision to abandon it.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement, and we have honored the agreement. But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we're going to terminate the agreement. We're going to pull out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The INF scrapped thousands of ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 300 to 3,400 miles. But in 2014, then President Obama accused Russia of developing and testing a cruise missile, in violation of the treaty.

    On Sunday, President Trump echoed charge. And, today, he said China should be added to the agreement.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China. And it includes Russia. And it includes anybody else that wants to play that game. You can't do that. You can't play that game on me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Russians deny violating the pact and claim that it is the U.S. breaching the treaty with the Europe-based missile defense systems it has built.

    Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, condemned Mr. Trump's announcement. Lavrov said last night that he wants answers from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who's in Moscow this week.

  • Sergei Lavrov (through translator):

    We will wait for an official explanation from our U.S. colleagues. In case John Bolton is ready to give them, we will of course listen to him and assess the situation after that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For his part, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in a statement that — quote — "It can't be that hard to understand that discarding such agreements is narrow-minded."

    French President Emmanuel Macron's office said he too voiced misgivings in a Sunday phone call with President Trump.

    We ask whether the president has made the right decision to withdraw from the nuclear arms treaty.

    And for answers, we turn to Richard Burt. He was assistant secretary of state for Europe and then served as U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1980s. He was intimately involved with the original INF Treaty negotiations. He's now a managing partner at the consulting firm McLarty Associates.

    And Rebeccah Heinrichs, she was a legislative assistant focusing on foreign and defense policy for a Republican member of Congress. She's now a senior fellow at The Hudson Institute. It's a think tank in Washington.

    And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."

    Rebeccah Heinrichs, to you first.

    You have told us you think the president's doing the right thing by trying — saying he wants to pull out. Why?

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    Well,this treaty, Cold War treaty, the Russians have been in violation of the treaty for many years, as early as 2008.

    The Obama administration made clear in 2014 that the Russians were in violation of the treaty and began this soft diplomatic approach to try to get the Russian to comply with the treaty. They didn't. Instead, they started moving forward with deploying missiles that would violate the treaty.

    And so the Trump administration came in and tried a tougher approach, tried to get them to comply, to no avail. And so it's time — if arms control is going to mean anything, it has to be enforced. And so it undermines arms control in general if there aren't hard consequences for violations such as the Russians have been — have been doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Richard Burt, if the Russians are in violation, why should the U.S. stay in?

  • Richard Burt:

    Well, this isn't the first time that we have accused the Russians of being in violation.

    And I think, in this case, they are clearly in violation of the agreement. But we have had other major compliance problems in a number of different treaties. This is the first time we have actually left a treaty when we haven't been capable of resolving the issue.

    I don't think the Trump administration, in taking this decision, went the extra mile in actually trying to solve this problem. I think the public diplomacy of this issue is just as important as the substance.

    And the problem is, is that people should be blaming the Russians. But they're not. By virtue of this impetuous decision, the United States is being blamed for stepping out of a very important arms control agreement.

    And our allies see another example of American unilateralism.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about — Rebeccah Heinrichs, what about his point that the Trump administration didn't do enough to try to bring Russia into compliance?

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    The Trump administration did try and has been working with allies since President Trump took office. The Obama administration was working quietly with allies to try to get the — to try to put pressure on the Russians.

    And, you know, enough is enough. We get to the point. The other issue that's happening is, while the Russians are in violation and continuing to become more provocative in their violations, then you also have this other issue, which is that other countries like China, Iran, North Korea are not party to the INF Treaty.

    So you also have a problem of relevance. Is the treaty relevant, combined with this issue of Russia's violations? If the other countries like China are going to be developing these missiles too, then the United States doesn't want to be tied to a treaty of which it is the only one abiding by it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Richard Burt, what about that, that other countries are moving ahead?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Richard Burt:

    Well, the only — the only real country of concern here — and the president mentioned it today — is China. And China is developing new land-based missiles targeted against United States assets in the region and our allies.

    But we have no plans and no need for ground-based missiles. Remember, this treaty only focused on ground-based missiles. We're not going to deploy ground-based missiles in South Korea or Japan or anywhere else in Asia. We're going to deal with this problem as we have done in the past. We're going to deploy them on air-launched — on — air-launched missiles on aircraft or submarine-launched missiles.

    And there are no limits on that. So we can certainly respond to a growing Chinese threat without scrapping a very important treaty, a treaty that is critical to our allies. It has been at the core really of the U.S.-European security relationship for over 30 years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rebeccah Heinrichs, I want you to respond to the China point. And then I want to ask you about the broader question.

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    Sure.

    China has the largest and most diverse missile program in the world. Admiral Harris was the commander of Pacific Command. In 2017, he said that 95 percent of China's missiles that they have would violate the INF Treaty, if it were party to that treaty.

    The United States doesn't have anything comparable, according to Admiral Harris. And so you have these air launch and sea launch capabilities, but for us to actually close that gap in terms of firepower, we're going to need ground-launched missiles.

    And so we need to — we need to get — we need to close that gap if we are going to deter China.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're shaking your head.

  • Richard Burt:

    Well, tell me who's going to accept ground-launched missiles. Japan? South Korea?

    No, we don't need those capabilities. What we need are probably enhanced air launch capabilities and sea-based capabilities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's talk about the larger question.

    What happens? What are the — what are the consequences if the U.S. pulls out of treaty?

  • Richard Burt:

    Well, I think what it means is a Russian buildup of missiles against the — against our European allies.

    The people who are really celebrating the Trump administration's decision is the Russian general staff. They have been opposed to the INF Treaty for 10 years, because they have been constrained in developing short- and medium-range missiles targeted against Europe. They have — they do have this new cruise missile capability they have developed.

    They have a new ICBM that could be used as an intermediate-range missile. So they're ready to move . They're ready to engage in a major buildup. We don't have those capabilities now. And it would take us several years to develop them.

    And today, Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador, said — was quoted as saying there's not going to be a repeat of the INF deployments in Europe in the 1980s. The Europeans will not accept new mobile missiles on their territory.

    So, we're going to be outmatched in NATO. And that's going to undermine the credibility of the American nuclear deterrent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Rebeccah Heinrichs, and the fact that he is saying the Russian generals have wanted this treaty, to get out of — to be out of the way?

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    Then there's a legal way to do that. And they haven't been doing it.

    Instead, they have continued to violate the treaty right under our noses, in plain sight. And so if the United States is going to actually deter Russia, then we cannot be the ones that are constrained by the treaty.

    I think that the points that were just made actually were points in favor of the United States saying, well, forget it. If you're going to continue to move forward with this, we got to close that gap.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're not worried about an arms race breaking out if this treaty is done away with?

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    Well, the Russians are already deploying these — these weapons systems. So we're the ones that are caught flat-footed at the point.

    So if we can do research and development, work with our allies, I don't know why we are precluding the possibility that we're going to have allies that are interested in the United States providing greater assurances because of the Russia threat.

  • Richard Burt:

    Well, I'm just amazed that — and in a matter of days after the president announcing that we're pulling out of an iconic arms control treaty, he talks today about a massive new nuclear buildup.

    That sends the wrong message, not only to the Russians, but to the entire globe. It makes us look like that we're not concerned about global security. We're only — we're going to have a very narrow view, a legalistic view of nuclear weapons.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Ambassador Richard Burt, Rebeccah Heinrichs at The Hudson Institute, we thank you both.

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