Russia & The United States Spar Over The INF Treaty

In October 2018, US President Trump had announced that Washington was withdrawing from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or INF treaty. The treaty was signed by former US President Ronald Reagan and the then Secretary General of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, to ban ground launched mid-range missiles. The United States has claimed that Russia has violated the treaty by developing missiles that are banned under the treaty. The United States will start to withdraw from the treaty from Feb 2019 and withdraw completely by August, if Russia does not comply fully with the treaty obligations.

Both, the Obama and Trump administrations, as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders and most Western military analysts, have said Russia is in breach of the INF Treaty. Specifically, they say the ‘Novator’ 9M729 cruise missile violates the pact, an allegation which Moscow vehemently denies. The Kremlin has countered that the United States is running afoul of the treaty with its missile defence systems in Europe. Washington has rejected those claims.

According to experts, Russia is unable to compete with the extensive range of US weapons has decided to develop ground based missile to boost its military capabilities to counter America. Other feel that the United States has been looking for ways to move away from the treaty due to the growing mid-range missile capabilities of the Chinese military, which is not constrained by the INF treaty. The US has acknowledged that the treaty has limited their responses to China’s missiles. As the US identifies both Russia and China as competitors and threats there is a growing demand within the US to withdraw from the treaty. Russian President Putin has warned that if the US decides to withdraw from the treaty and place intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to take countermeasures.

The US withdrawal has allowed Russia to take the moral high ground in trying to salvage global arms control. Russia has stated that it is willing to work with the US to save the treaty and work towards including other nations such as China into the treaty. It has also called on the US’ European allies to help influence Washington. While European leaders have also supported the allegations of violation against Russia, they do not want the treaty to collapse. They fear that it would reduce the threshold for accidental nuclear war. Geographically placed between the US and Russia, they are within the range of the missiles which the INF treaty prohibits. A new build-up of intermediate range missiles by the US and Russia will entail increasing risks of instability and insecurity for the European Union.

The collapse of the INF treaty, the reluctance to negotiate the New Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) along with the US administration ordering the Pentagon to create a unified combatant command for space operations has raised fears of nuclear weapons in space. Russian diplomats and politicians are promising repercussions if President Donald Trump’s order to build a U.S. space force is met, citing a treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space.

The debate on the INF Treaty also raises questions about how to prevent the deployment and development of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and Asia and prevent the global collapse of arms control spearheaded by Russia and the US. The fate of the INF Treaty is a wake-up call to arms controllers and strategists to build new framework for global arms control.

India hopes that betters sense would prevail both on Washington and Moscow to ward off the current crisis. India has been a votary of complete ban on nuclear weapons. The developed world needs to build consensus on the issue and lessen global tensions.

Script: Dr. Stuti Banerjee, Strategic Analyst On American Affairs