A New Nuclear Arms Race?
Will US Withdraw from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty?
After Russian treaty violations, the US is preparing to announce Friday that it is withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that has been the keystone of superpower nuclear arms control since the Cold War, with the potential to ignite a new nuclear arms race.
“We must prepare for a world without the Treaty” – Oana Lungescu, NATO
Has Russia Violated the INF Treaty?
The US withdrawal has been expected for months after years of unresolved dispute over Russian compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. INF was the first arms control measure to ban an entire class of weapons: ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 500 kilometers (310 miles) and 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles).
The controversy centres on the Russian Federation’s new Novator 9M729 (NATO SSC-8). Russia denies that it has been in violation.
China Not Party to INF Treaty
The US is also concerned that China, which is not party to the 1987 treaty, is gaining a significant military advantage in Asia by deploying large numbers of missiles with ranges beyond the treaty’s limit. Leaving the INF treaty would allow the US to counter the Chinese.
Russia’s 60-Day INF Deadline Expires Saturday
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in early December that the Russian Federation had 60 days to return to compliance before it gave formal notice of withdrawal, with actual withdrawal taking place six months later. The 60-day deadline expires on Saturday, and the administration is expected to say as early as Friday that efforts to work out a compliance deal have failed and that it would suspend its compliance with the treaty’s terms.
The US State Department said Pompeo would make a public statement Friday morning, but it did not mention the topic.
In a tweet Thursday, the chief spokeswoman for NATO, Oana Lungescu, said that there are no signs of getting a compliance deal with Russia.
“So we must prepare for a world without the Treaty,” she wrote.
US Withdrawal from INF Would Take Six Months
The US withdrawal would take effect six months after this week’s notification, leaving a small window for saving the treaty. However, in talks this week in Beijing, the US and Russia reported no breakthrough in their dispute, leaving little expectation that either side would change its stance on whether a Russian cruise missile violates the pact.
A Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, was quoted by the Russian state news agency Tass as saying after the Beijing talks Thursday, “Unfortunately, there is no progress. The position of the American side is very tough and like an ultimatum.” He said he expects Washington now to suspend its obligations under the treaty, although he added that Moscow remains ready to “search for solutions” that could keep the treaty in force.
U.S. withdrawal raises the prospect of further deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations, which already are arguably at the lowest point in decades, and debate among U.S. allies in Europe over whether Russia’s alleged violations warrant a countermeasure such as deployment of an equivalent American missile in Europe. The U.S. has no nuclear-capable missiles based in Europe; the last of that type and range were withdrawn in line with the INF treaty.
Igniting New Nuclear Arms Race
The American ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, set the rhetorical stage for Washington’s withdrawal announcement by asserting Thursday that Russia has been in violation for years, including in Ukraine. She said in a tweet and a video message about the INF treaty that Russia is to blame for its demise.
“Russia consistently refuses to acknowledge its violation and continues to push disinformation and false narratives regarding its illegal missile,” she said. “When only one party respects an arms control treaty while the other side flaunts it, it leaves one side vulnerable, no one is safer, and (it) discredits the very idea of arms control.”
Nuclear proliferation analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in a statement this week that, while Russia’s violation of the INF treaty is a serious problem, US withdrawal under current circumstances would be counter-productive.
“Leaving the INF treaty will unleash a new missile competition between the United States and Russia.” – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Other similar organisations followed suit in condemning the both, overlooking the fact that China is not party to the INF and Russia may have already broken it. The US would, in effect, be leaving an ineffective agreement.
Europe Will Suffer Most from INF Collapse
Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defence journal and member of the Russian Defence Ministry’s public council, told Russian broadcaster RT that “If the US were to deploy nuclear-capable missiles to Europe after scrapping the treaty, it would literally put the host nations at a gunpoint – as the missile sites would become targets of Russian high-precision weapons.”
Lieutenant-General Aytech Bizhev, former deputy head of the Russian Air Force, added that “The US is simply putting Europe under fire.”
The development certainly confirms the recent decision to keep the Doomsday Clock at Two Minutes to Midnight.
Image: Russian Federation Intermediate Cruise Missile Novator 9M729 in INF violation dispute.