Is Withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Really the End of the World?

International Relations scholars’ consensus on the treaty, the threat of Russia, and the strength of international agreements
By Marc Dion
February 11th, 2019

Earlier this month, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This was the final blow for the treaty after accusations concerning whether Russia had remained within the boundaries of the treaty in the past few years. The INF Treaty was one of many nuclear arms treaties between the United States and Russia with the goal of limiting nuclear arms proliferation.

The most recent TRIP Snap Poll fielded in October 2018 asked this question to I.R. scholars: “President Trump announced last week that the United States is pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia. Do you support or oppose this decision?”

Looking at the graph below, more than 80% of scholars opposed withdrawing from the INF treaty. Yet, we see that there was still about 10% of respondents that supported withdrawal from the INF treaty. What differentiates this 20% (including the 10% that did not support or oppose withdrawal) from the greater majority that argues against withdrawal?

 

The largest proportion of I.R. scholars that support withdrawal are in the realist theoretical paradigm, with about 20% of realist scholars surveyed responding support for withdrawal. Scholars in other theoretical paradigms, including those who have identified as non-paradigmatic, are generally almost entirely opposed to withdrawal, with less than 5% for each supporting withdrawal.


What makes realists more supportive of withdrawal compared to other theoretical paradigms? This may lie within their theoretical origins and their emphasis on power dynamics and military capabilities in ensuring world order. But, does this mean that about 20% of realists disagree with seeing Russia as a threat with their intermediate-range nuclear missile capabilities? This graph from the TRIP 2017 Faculty Survey would suggest otherwise:


 

Only 5% of scholars surveyed in this Snap Poll responded that Russia was not a threat at all. This creates a gap between scholars that do not view Russia as a threat versus support for withdrawal. This suggests that there are scholars that believe both that Russia is a threat and that the INF treaty was not successful in limiting nuclear proliferation and curtailing the Russian threat. This mirrors the results from another question posed in the same snap poll discussing the effectiveness of international agreements:

 

With about 10% of the respondents viewing international agreements as neither really effective or effective at all, we can see that there are some scholars that view Russia as a threat, but perhaps see the INF treaty as being unsuccessful in protecting the U.S. from this Russian threat.

In conclusion, while there’s a large consensus that withdrawal from the INF treaty would not be beneficial to the United States, there lacks unanimous agreement. There exists a small group of scholars who support the withdrawal but view Russia as a threat. Does this mean that they oppose all anti-nuclear proliferation treaties or just the INF? These results leave a lot of questions unanswered but illustrate a diversity of scholarly opinion regarding big contemporary issues.

If you’d like to see more results from the surveys cited above:
TRIP X Snap Poll (Embedded in the 2017 Faculty Survey) (Fielded in October 2017): https://trip.wm.edu/charts/#/questions/44
TRIP XI Snap Poll (Fielded in October 2018): https://trip.wm.edu/charts/#/questions/45
TRIP Survey Data Dashboard: https://trip.wm.edu/charts/#/

Marc Dion is a senior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He has worked at TRIP for 2 years as a Research Assistant. His interests include organizational culture, U.S. foreign policy, and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.