Humanity breathed a sigh of relief in 1987 when, to seal the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States finalized a nuclear disarmament treaty banning intermediate-range missiles (between 50 and 5,500 kilometers, or 31 and 3,417 miles). Over the weekend, incredulity and concern took over after Donald Trump’s announcement of his country’s next withdrawal.
The American president maintains that Russia isn’t complying with the treaty’s terms (which Russia denies) and that as a result, the United States will resume development of this type of weapon, which Moscow vows to copy. It’s the perfect recipe for the resurgence of a useless and costly nuclear arms race!
Trump isn’t the first to accuse Russia of besmirching the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; the Obama administration expressed similar criticism. Nevertheless, there was no discussion of Barack Obama ending the INF Treaty, an important part of ensuring European safety.
Moscow considers such a scenario to be “very dangerous,” but its eventuality seems to have had an effect, as the Russian secretary of the Security Council is said to be ready to work with the Americans to resolve their “mutual” complaints. Because the Russians have their complaints, too.
The two countries feel that they are shackled as they are faced with the rise of China and several other countries with nuclear weapons that aren’t bound by the treaty. But the powers at play are not the same. At the beginning of 2018, years after having destroyed a total of 2,692 missiles in accordance with the INF, America and Russia each still has around 6,500 nuclear weapons in stock, compared to around 900 for all other countries combined.
If America’s withdrawal is confirmed, this will be the second hard blow in less than 20 years to the structure of nuclear disarmament, of which the INF is a cornerstone. The first blow was dealt by George W. Bush in 2001. Eager to equip the United States and Europe with a missile defense system, he withdrew his country from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The logic of disarmament has been questioned for years. New countries have missiles, including North Korea. The military landscape in Europe has changed with reinforcement from NATO’s military presence at Russia’s door, which sees this as a threat to its own security. Vladimir Putin, for that matter, has responded by ordering his country to reinforce its strike force and modernize its weapons.
One would think that Trump, who boasts about his good relations with Putin, would have tried to find common ground, but he has always favored a strong and assertive America that imposes its will on the rest of the world. And he’s surrounded himself accordingly. A hawk among hawks, his national security advisor, John Bolton, would be, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, the biggest supporter of America’s withdrawal and the biggest opponent of any negotiation that would prolong another treaty, the New START regarding strategic weapons, which will expire in 2021.
The world is right to worry and, as with Germany and France, to sound the alarm. As for Trump, while he can blame Russia all he wants, he is the one that will take responsibility for having ended the INF and having given the green light to new proliferation of nuclear weapons.
It’s easy to rip apart an agreement, but it’s another matter to finalize one. The result of years of negotiations, the INF should be preserved at all costs, as who knows when the climate will again be favorable for reviving the unfinished trek toward disarmament.