US President Trump’s announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF Treaty) has shocked the global community. The announcement was made as US National Security Adviser John Bolton was visiting Russia. The treaty that was concluded in 1987 barred the United States and Russia (then Soviet Union) from deploying missiles with a range from 500 to 5,500 kms, and largely was credited with banishing nuclear missiles from Europe. US had declared the Russian Federation violating the INF Treaty in July 2014, for the development of the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile system; which the United States assesses to be designated by the Russian Federation as the 9M729. The United States had pressed Russia to comply with its obligations under the Treaty. Russia has denied the violation, instead stating that the deployment of missile systems by the United States on Russia’s borders is a violation of the INF treaty.
The collapse of the INF treaty has been accompanied by a general decline in the relations between Russia and the United States since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. And while Mr. Trump has been hoping for better relations, it has not yet borne fruit with both sides being suspicious of the other. Analysts caution that a breakdown of the INF Treaty would feed bilateral distrust and could precipitate the demise of other important nuclear arms treaties, such as the New START Treaty, which would be up for renewal in 2021. It would be detrimental to the larger goal of nuclear non proliferation and allow for a possible renewed nuclear arms race. European countries see the INF treaty as a pillar of arms control and areconcerned that its collapse could lead to a new arms race with a new generation of US nuclear missiles stationed on the continent. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has called the US move “regrettable,” noting it “poses difficult questions for Germany and Europe.” The EU has urged the US and Russia to preserve the INF treaty and ensure its implementation. “The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and, on the contrary, would bring even more instability,” the EU said in a statement
Former USSR Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty with former US President Regan, has criticised the move. Russian President Putin has also stated that if the United States delivers the banned missiles to Europe, then Russia would respond in the same manner. He has expressed a desire to discuss the issue when he meets President Trump in Paris to celebrate 100 years of Armistice Day. In the meantime European leaders and NATO allies are expected to meet with the US representatives in the coming days to get a better understanding of the reason for the withdrawal.
The announcement has sparked anger and concerns from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two Japanese cities to have been hit by atomic bombs in 1945, killing more than 210,000 people. Japan, looking at the possibility of such missiles being stationed close to its territories, has also stated that it stands firm on nuclear non-proliferation and would like the United States to strengthen its nuclear deterrence policies. The statement stated that it would wait and see how the situation develops.
One reason that has been put forward for the United States decision to withdraw from the treaty is to build its defences against China. Both Russia and the United States have become vary of China’s growing military capabilities and more importantly Beijing’s willingness to assert its power in the region. China is not bound by the INF treaty and faces no limits while developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles. On its part, China has stated that any reference to China in the matter is groundless.
India too needs to be cautious about the issue as it could have implications on the Indo-Pacific region too. For the moment, the threat of a revived nuclear arms race has become real.
Script: Dr. Stuti Banerjee, Strategic Analyst On American Affairs