Sejong Policy Briefs
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Sejong Policy Briefs

The INF Treaty Regime in Crisis and South Korea(ROK)’s Response
2019.03.27  Wednesday
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Eunsook Chung

The INF Treaty Regime in Crisis and South Korea(ROK)’s Response


Eunsook Chung

Senior Research Fellow, The Sejong Institute


Executive Summary


○ The INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; formally, Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles) is an arms control treaty concluded between the two superpowers under the Cold War order on December 8, 1987.

At that time, two military alliances that each formed around NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (formally, Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance) were in the middle of a sharp arms race at the European theatre. Against the backdrop of Europe’s military crisis, the U.S. and the Soviet Union shared the perception that at least a zero-sum option with respect to “ground-launched” ballistic and cruise missiles with a “range capability of 500-5,500km (short- to intermediate-range)” strategically meets their respective interests.

The key terms of the treaty include the elimination of land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,00km within the first three years of the treaty and permanent renunciation after the effectuation.

A total of 2,692 missiles were forsworn under verifiable procedures within three years after the treaty entered into force - from June 1, 1988 to June 1, 1991. The treaty was considered as one of the most exemplary cases of arms control treaties in history.

From 2014, the U.S. consistently alleged that Russia has violated the INF Treaty obligations through annual compliance reports. On February 1, 2019, the Trump administration formally announced that the U.S. would suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty on the following day (February 2, 2019) and provided Russia with six-month notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty, pursuant to Article XV. The U.S. explicated the matter of concern as Russia’s development and deployment of “ground-launched 9M729 cruise missile.” As a response, Russia also declared a suspension of its treaty obligations. Unless the allegations of noncompliance are resolved, the INF Treaty will disappear in history on August 2, 2019.

Possible termination of the INF treaty suggests a potential resurgence of a missile arms race between the U.S. and Russia. It is anticipated that such alteration in the security environment would influence Europe directly, and also East Asia and the Korean Peninsula substantially where today’s China may intervene as a variable in the future of the treaty.

This article applied a more flexible concept to the INF Treaty, considering the treaty as a ‘regime’ in which rules of the game agreed among players and their mutual practice are entailed, and analyzed the following: the birth of the INF regime and its main points; achievements of the INF treaty and its historical significance; the INF Regime in crisis; international reaction to the crisis of the INF regime; and future prospect and policy implications.

In conclusion, for South Korea, the crisis of the INF Regime proposes the increasing necessity of perceiving its national security vulnerabilities in case of missile arms race among superpowers surrounding the Korean Peninsula, promoting its understanding in regard to political and technical aspects of the U.S.-Russia missile control process, and having a shared alliance strategy with the U.S.