The United States this week gave notice it is scrapping the second of three major arms control treaties. President Trump’s announced withdrawal from the INF Treaty this week follows the unilateral abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 by his predecessor GW Bush.
The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has for the past 30 years served to prohibit the stationing of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, both nuclear and non-nuclear, in Europe by either the US or Russia. It was a landmark accord signed in 1987 by former US President Ronald Reagan and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Trump’s national-security advisor John Bolton confirmed during an official visit to Moscow this week that the US intends to imminently pull out of the INF.
That will leave only the third and last arms control treaty in place. The New START governs long-range strategic Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). There are even signs that US policy makers want to scrap that agreement when it comes up for renewal in 2021.
All these baleful moves undoing global architecture for nuclear non-proliferation come from the US side. It is undermining decades of arms controls cooperation between the two nuclear superpowers, cooperation which can be traced back to the terrifying days of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when the US and Soviet Union then pulled back from the brink of a nuclear war.
It seems unfathomable, not to say reprehensible, that the US now seems intent on once again unravelling crucial constraints on the deployment of nuclear weapons.
The US side has in recent years accused Russia of violating the INF, by allegedly developing land-launched cruise missiles within the prohibitive range of 500-5,500 kilometers. Russia, for its part, has repeatedly denied it has engaged in such a development and has repeatedly asked the US for evidence to substantiate its claims, which the latter has declined to do.
Moscow makes the counter-claim that it is the US which is violating the INF from its deployment of so-called “anti-missile” Aegis Ashore systems in European states, such as Romania and Poland. These missile systems can be easily used to launch cruise missiles on Russian territory or create a first-strike potential, according to Moscow.
Surely the point is that both sides have purported concerns and grievances. Such matters should be therefore worked out through dialogue and negotiations. But the US is evidently jettisoning any diplomacy and simply acting in a high-handed unilateral way to terminate the INF.
Like its previous unilateral termination of the ABM, such a US move is only leading to more distrust and tensions, which are already at a heightened state. It is deplorable that the US is adding to more global insecurity in the realm of nuclear weapons by taking out the second of three arms controls treaties.
It is significant that even America’s NATO allies in Europe have been jolted by this week’s move by the Trump administration to scrap the INF. The European Union, France and Germany in particular, were among anxious voices calling on Washington to not withdraw from the INF and to instead engage with Moscow in maintaining the treaty.
The European states have urgent grounds for concern. If the Americans try to reinstall short and medium-range nuclear missiles on European soil, then Russia will be compelled to respond by deploying weapons that will target NATO allies in Europe. Such a retrograde situation will be akin to turning the clock back to the Cold War years before the INF was signed. The potential proximity of nuclear missiles between European states and Russia – with flight times reduced to a matter of seconds – greatly increases the risk of a nuclear war. Europe and Russia are potentially being put on a hair-trigger for catastrophe by the American move to terminate the INF.
Following the US unilateral abrogation of the ABM treaty in 2002, this week’s notice of withdrawing from the INF treaty is another pernicious provocation to global stability and peace.
By Washington’s own admission, the decision to abandon the INF is not solely about Russia’s alleged violations. Trump, Bolton and other US planners have complained that the INF is an impediment to America’s objectives of confronting China. That may in fact be the main reason why the US wants to unburden itself from the restrictions imposed by the INF.
China is not bound by the INF, since the treaty was a bilateral one between the US and the Soviet Union (superseded by the Russian Federation).
Washington claims that China has developed a robust arsenal of INF-type prohibited missiles. But, by definition, such weapons have a range of under 5,500 kms. That distance does not put the US mainland in any danger from China with this missile-type. The only reason why American military could perceive such a threat from China is because US forces choose to be in the Western Pacific close to Chinese territories, such as the South China Sea, South Korea and Japan.
In other words, what is going on here is that the US is claiming threats to its forces which are deployed thousands of kilometers from American mainland territory in the domains of Europe, Russia or Asia-Pacific.
The breaking of the INF treaty is less about defending US security and much more about projecting American offensive capability against Russia and China, whom it deems to be global rivals.
World security and risk of catastrophic nuclear war are thus being jeopardized for one simple reason – the unlawful, reckless ambitions of American imperialist power.
One glimmer of hope is the fact that John Bolton was in Moscow this week and apparently held “productive” talks with President Putin and other senior Kremlin officials.
At least there seems to be some room for dialogue, however diminished. Bolton confirmed plans for Putin to meet with Trump in Paris next month, on November 11, during centennial commemorations marking the World War I armistice. That date carries ominous connotations.
Today the stakes could not be more grave for a new understanding to prevail in the realm of arms control. The Americans must come to their senses in the way they are provoking war tensions from their ever-expanding militarism in Europe and Asia-Pacific. This week sees the biggest-ever US-led NATO war drills in northern Europe since the Cold War. They are hugely provocative to Russia’s national security, based on tendentious claims of “protecting Europe” from alleged Russian aggression.
It is not Russia nor China that are pushing the limits of international security. It is the United States. The onus is preponderantly on Washington to return to a multilateral respect for the limits of peace and war. But, forebodingly, it is doubtful if the current American leadership is capable of seeing reason.