Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty - Analysis
In an escalating standoff over nuclear weapons, Russia and the United States have suspended compliance with the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, prompting fears of a new arms race. The long-running dispute between Washington and Moscow came to anend earlier this month when US President Donald Trump accused Russia again of violating the bilateral treaty with "impunity", accusations Moscow rejected.
On February 1st, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formalized the US withdrawal from the historical nuclear treaty with Russia, and announced his government was suspending its obligations starting 2nd February.
"Russia has violated the nuclear weapons treaty for years without scruples and has not shown any serious commitment to respect it," said Pompeo, adding that the United States "are ready to develop their military response options". Russia is already taking steps to ensure its national security, and will do whatever it takes "to guarantee its security and restore military balance".
What is INF
The need for an agreement limiting intermediate-range missiles between the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as both countries began expanding their nuclear arsenals in the 1970s.
US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in December 1987 following sis years of tense negotiations. As a result, 2.692 ground-launched intermediate ballistic and cruise missiles were destroyed.
The INF Treaty banned both countries against the production, testing and deployment of ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km.
The agreement became untenable, after evidence emerged of Russian violations and continued build-up of Chinese missiles within this range.
Reason for America to Quit the INF Treaty
In January 2014, US had evidence that Russia was testing a new ground-based cruise missile, which was directly against the INF Treaty provisions.The Kremlin insisted the new missile fell outside the agreement's range restrictions, but US administration remained skeptical.Although the Obama administration identified the Russian violations, it was not until the start of the Trump administration that support for a US withdrawal began to gain steam.In addition to the Russian violations, concerns were expressed about the build-up of Chinese nuclear forces in East Asia.
The United States’ participation in the INF Treaty prohibits the US military from developing or deploying missiles anywhere in the world, thus handicapping the country’s ability to adequately respond to Chinese build-up in East Asia.
The Trump administration has made a huge mistake, seen as a breakdown of trust between US and Russia.The reciprocal moves effectively terminated a pact regarded as one of the most important safeguards against nuclear war, and this move could push the world “much closer to a nuclear war”.
Beside alleged Russian intransigence, the Trump administration cited China as a second reason for the United States to quit the INF Treaty. Beijing is not a signatory to INF Treaty; US believe the treaty constrains the United States while allowing China the freedom to develop mid-range missiles.
President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, proved to Moscow that Chinese missiles threaten the “heart of Russia”, adding that the majority of the total number of Chinese ballistic missiles do not comply with the INF Treaty.
Since the mid-1990s, Beijing has built up the world’s largest and most diverse arsenal of ground-launched missiles.China’s inventory contains more than 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles, approximately 95 percent of which would violate the INF Treaty if China were a signatory.Both the nuclear and conventional missiles in China’s inventory that would be subject to INF Treaty restrictions are foundational to Beijing’s overall military strategy. Likewise, the U.S. military already has developed new ways of matching China's missile arsenal. The sea-launched Tomahawk missile and air-launched JASSM-ER missile are not subject to the INF.
Despite a series of unfriendly steps by the US toward China, today it is hard to imagine a real military conflict between the two countries. The economic ties between Beijing and Washington are too strong and too interdependent to break over a geopolitical confrontation "
With the INF Treaty gone, all eyes are on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a 2010 pact that limits the US and Russia to no more than 700 deployed strategic missiles and no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.The treaty expires in two years, but can be extended by up to five years.
The United States quitting the INF Treaty likely will not alter the balance of power between America and China. But it could destabilize Europe by freeing up Russia, and for the United States to field new ground-launched nukes without any legal framework for limiting such deployments. The world invariably will be less stable, less predictable and less secure.