The INF Treaty thus made a decisive contribution to the unity of the North Atlantic Alliance. This is why its potential denunciation by the United States resonates so much with the historical relationship between Europeans and NATO.
The military and operational value of the INF Treaty is more tricky to assess in 2018, compared to what it was in the 1980s. Back then, ground-launched missiles of intermediate range were disruptive for strategic stability, as they could be launched in very short timeframes and inflict relatively limited damage. As opposed to intercontinental ballistic missiles, they could be either conventional or nuclear. Today, the comparative advantages of such systems have decreased, since sea-launched or air-launched cruise missiles (which are not constrained by the INF Treaty) have become significantly more performant. However, ground-launched missiles do still have some added value: it is indeed harder to determine whether a ground-launched missile is equipped with a nuclear or a conventional warhead. Moreover, they can be deployed in concentration to exert localized pressure on a given area, in a more permanent and sustainable way than sea-launched or air-launched missiles.
Would Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty impact the transatlantic relationship?
Both the Obama and Trump administrations denounced Russia’s violation of the Treaty over the last few years. And all NATO Allies agree that it is highly likely that Russia is violating the Treaty. There has thus been a solid and consistent transatlantic dialogue about this issue for quite some time, which means Washington’s recent announcement does not entirely come out of the blue..
This being said, NATO Allies were not consulted on the matter. This is both a procedural and a substantial issue. Indeed, all NATO Allies – and in particular France, Germany and the UK – consistently emphasized the importance of the INF Treaty’s contribution to the architecture of European security.