News Release

Will Congress Save Nuclear Treaties with Russia?

JOHN BURROUGHS, johnburroughs at lcnp.org

Burroughs is executive director of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and co-author of “U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Racing: Still Crazy After All These Years.” His group is participating in a RootsAction-led online campaign to oppose U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

He said today: “In October, President Trump announced the intent to withdraw from the INF treaty, a key nuclear disarmament pact with Russia signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and approved by the U.S. Senate. It required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles. Through the campaign, constituents can contact their representative and senators to urge that they support legislation or a resolution clearly stating congressional opposition to U.S. withdrawal and that they oppose funding of weapons prohibited by the treaty.

“The INF Treaty was the first agreement to eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons delivery systems, and served as the foundation for subsequent U.S.-Russian agreements to reduce long-range nuclear forces. Its termination now will destabilize the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship and make further bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control much more difficult. The issues the U.S. and Russia each have regarding claimed violations of the treaty by the other side can be resolved through negotiations. And given Democratic control of the House next year and the positions taken by the likely incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, it is doubtful that Congress will fund treaty-prohibited activities — the testing, production, and deployment of the missiles — whether or not the treaty remains in effect. If that is so, what is the strategic rationale for withdrawing from the treaty?”

Burroughs adds that the online campaign — which is also backed by other groups including Daily Kos and The Nation — has an “emphasis on the need for Congress to step up to the plate that is much needed. Already, there have been signs of movement. Smith and Eliot Engel, the likely incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, signed a letter in response to Trump’s announcement complaining bitterly that their committees had not been consulted about the plan to withdraw. Under the Constitution, treaties are part of the supreme law of the land and their ratification is approved by the Senate. The Constitution is silent on allocation of the power of treaty termination, but from the beginning numerous treaties were ended by joint action of Congress and the president. While evidence of the framers’ intent is fragmentary and mixed, it is noteworthy that Jefferson and Madison maintained that Congress or the Senate have responsibility for treaty termination. It was only with the advent of the imperial presidency after World War II that it has become commonplace flatly to assume that treaty termination is a sole presidential power — though that assumption has not gone unchallenged, as former senator Russell Feingold explains in ‘Donald Trump Can Unilaterally Withdraw from Treaties Because Congress Abdicated responsibility.’

“This dynamic played out in the fateful decision of the George W, Bush administration to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Now is the time for Congress to reclaim its power, through spending decisions which the House can control and if possible through legislation or a resolution adopted by both the House and Senate.”

Background: Congressman Ro Khanna has tweeted: “I am alarmed that President Trump is withdrawing from the INF treaty with Russia. This action plunges us back into a nuclear arms race and endangers our troops, allies, & the world, while wasting taxpayer dollars to prepare for a nuclear war that must never be fought.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which now shows the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, points out: “The INF withdrawal is part of a pattern. It is not the first nuclear treaty the U.S. has terminated; at the end of 2001 the United States walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty it had signed with the Soviet Union in 1972.”