Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has urged the Russian and U.S. leaders to resolve a dispute over a nuclear arms control treaty he signed with Washington 30 years ago, warning that a breakdown of the landmark pact could lead the entire international disarmament framework to "collapse."
"Now the task of preserving disarmament agreements is one of the most important," said Gorbachev, 86, who signed the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF treaty), with then U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1987, in a move that led to the end of the Cold War.
The 1990 Nobel Peace Prize laureate made the remarks in a recent written response to Kyodo News as tensions between Russia and the United States run high, with the two nuclear superpowers accusing each other of violating the INF treaty, which calls for destruction of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 km.
Gorbachev said the international nuclear disarmament treaties -- the INF treaty, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or the New START, and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT -- "all are parts of a single architecture that can collapse if one of its elements is undermined."
"I still hope that the leaders of our countries have enough wisdom to prevent this," the last leader of the Soviet Union said. "I urged the presidents of Russia and the U.S. to tackle the problem personally; to reaffirm commitments to the treaty, and to instruct diplomats and militaries to solve the problems."
Over the INF treaty, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced in March 2017 that it has confirmed the deployment of a new type of Russian ground-launched missile in a violation of the pact.
On Dec. 8, the 30th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, the State Department said that it will pursue a "review of military concepts and options, including options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems" as a countermeasure to Russia's treaty violation.
Russia, for its part, argues that the deployment of the U.S. land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Romania and the planned implementation in Japan violate the treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Dec. 14 that Washington "has already withdrawn from (the treaty) de facto."
Gorbachev signaled that Russia and the United States, which together possess more than 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world, should lead efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons.
"We must not forget that the movement towards a world without nuclear weapons is the most important obligation of the nuclear powers enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty," Gorbachev said.
The INF treaty was signed on Dec. 8, 1987, following the launch of negotiations in November 1981 amid heightened tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union stemming from the threats posed by intermediate-range nuclear missiles deployed in Europe.
Gorbachev said that the INF treaty, which became the first agreement between the two superpowers on the elimination of deployed nuclear weapons, was "the most important document in the closing period of the Cold War."
He also noted that the treaty helped reduce fear and anxiety in Europe and Asia, including Japan, over the presence of nuclear missiles.
The INF pact required the destruction of U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range capability between 500 and 5,500 km, and their associated launchers, support structures, and equipment, within three years after the treaty entered into force in June 1988.
Under the treaty, the two countries eliminated a total of 2,692 missiles by 1991. It also introduced a verification regime, which was the "most detailed and stringent in the history of nuclear arms control" at the time the treaty was signed, according to the State Department.