Gorbachev calls Trump's treaty withdrawal 'not the work of a great mind'

Mr Mikhail Gorbachev called US President Donald Trump's rollback of the disarmament agreement "very strange". PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (NYTIMES) - United States President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from a nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia drew sharp criticism on Sunday (Oct 21) from one of the men who signed it - Mr Mikhail Gorbachev - who called the decision reckless and not the work of "a great mind".

In announcing last Saturday that he would withdraw from the treaty, Mr Trump cited Russian violations of the pact, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which was signed in Washington in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Mr Gorbachev.

Mr Gorbachev, who is now 87 years old, cast Mr Trump's decision as a threat to peace.

"Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements," he said. "Is it really that hard to understand that rejecting these agreements is, as the people say, not the work of a great mind."

Mr Gorbachev, in an interview with the Interfax news agency, called Mr Trump's rollback of the disarmament agreement "very strange".

"Rejecting the INF is a mistake," Mr Gorbachev said. "Do they really not understand in Washington what this can lead to?"

The last Soviet leader, who is perceived more warmly in the West than inside Russia, has already watched his domestic reform agendas supporting democracy and greater freedom of the press unravel in recent years. Nuclear disarmament also defined his legacy.

"All agreements aimed at nuclear disarmament and limiting nuclear weapons must be preserved, for the sake of preserving life on earth," Mr Gorbachev said on Sunday.

The pact required the elimination of short- and intermediate-range missiles launched from land, and helped pull the superpowers back from the hair-trigger nuclear posture of the Cold War.

The US formally notified Russia of suspected violations four years ago, for developing banned missiles.

President Vladimir Putin had suggested as early as 2007 that the treaty no longer served Russia's interests. Still, it remained in force as a cornerstone of the disarmament agreements of the late Soviet period.

"Russia has not, unfortunately, honoured the agreement so we're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out," Mr Trump told reporters after a political rally in Elko, Nevada, last Saturday.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin would seek an explanation about the move when he meets Mr John Bolton, Mr Trump's national security adviser, this week in Moscow.

A deputy Russian foreign minister, Mr Sergei A. Ryabkov, called the plans for a unilateral withdrawal "very dangerous" and said Russia might respond with unspecified technical means.

The INF agreement resolved a crisis of the Cold War, as both superpowers deployed a new generation of relatively short-range missiles in Europe, the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and the US, in response, in 1983.

The US' missiles in Europe, including the Pershing II, shortened the decision-making window for the Soviet leadership in Moscow to respond to a nuclear strike to as little as 10 minutes, compared with about half an hour for an intercontinental ballistic missile launch.

If a leader failed to respond in time, the Soviet command might be obliterated before ordering a retaliatory nuclear assault on the US.

In part to address this shortcoming in the Soviet deterrence posture, the Soviet Union developed a "dead hand" launch mechanism that could fire missiles at the US even if the leadership died in a first strike.

The Russian government first publicly acknowledged the existence of this launch authority during Mr Putin's tenure.

In a period of tensions at the outset of the Ukraine crisis, the government newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta, published an article describing this system for launch using a computer and "artificial intelligence".

It is not activated in peacetime, the article said.

The INF treaty banned nuclear-capable, ground-based missiles with a range of more than 500km.

Mr Trump's plan to withdraw from the treaty came after US assertions that Russia was understating the range of at least one of its missiles, known as the Iskander, which is launched from a truck and can carry conventional or nuclear payloads.

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