Self-Preservation to Self-Destruction
A new arms race around the corner?
A major step that ended the Cold War emanated with the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on December 8, 1987, between the US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, with the declaration by Ronald Reagan in his 1984 State of the Union address where he stated:
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
The treaty between the then two superpowers prohibited the development, possession and testing of the ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles within a range of 500- 5,500-km. These prohibitions do not specify nuclear or conventional warheads. Entered into force on the 1st of June 1988, implementation of the treaty saw the destruction of 859 US and 1,752 Soviet missiles by June 1st of 1991. The landmark 1987 arms control pact purged Europe of land-based nuclear missiles, abolishing medium-range arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers reducing their individual abilities to launch a short notice nuclear attack. Resulting from this was the removal of Cruise and Pershing missiles that were being deployed in Britain and Germany while the Soviet Union removed their SS-20s out of Europe. But the constant distrust between the two countries led them to doubt each other of violating the treaty.
A major doubt was cast on the legitimacy of the treaty when US President George Bush in 2001, pulled the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty signed in 1972, to control and counter “strategic” ballistic missiles, like Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The New START Treaty between the US and Russian Federation to reduce and limit strategic offensive arms like ICBMs and Sub-marine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) will expire by 2021.
US President Donald Trump made a significant and potentially negative announcement on 20th October 2018 declaring withdrawal from the INF treaty within a period of six months alleging violations by Russia of deploying banned cruise missiles that might target many Western European countries. President Vladimir Putin used this reason as a tit-for-tat move to announce its suspension of the treaty. Since 2014, US accused Russia of breaching the treaty guidelines by developing the SSC-8, a land-based, intermediate-range cruise missile also called the Novator 9M729 by NATO. But the Russian government has denied these claims of breaking the treaty by specifying the SSC-8 missiles having a range of 480-km, slightly lower than the range-limit of 500–5,500-km. The Obama administration has accused the SSC-8 missiles to have a range of 2000-km and deploying these missiles which are nuclear capable and ground-based in violation of the INF Treaty.
The US decision will have a major backlash to the already strained NATO relations. Countries like the UK, along with many other European powers are behind the Washington narrative, reasons being the NATO could lose more than Russia if the INF Treaty breaks down. As Russia could speed ahead of its research and development, along with the deployment of short and medium-range ground-launched nuclear-capable missiles.
Apart from trust issues with Russia, the US has its concern with the rise of China in the Asia-Pacific region. Not being a signatory of the INF Treaty, China and North Korea have been building up their arsenals with missile-delivery capabilities. A significant 95% of the Chinese arsenal is in the prohibited range enabling the Chinese missiles to target US ships and bases from the mainland which has been a very serious concern for the US. The stockpile of China, below 300, is much less than the size of the US and Russia, 6,500 and 7,000 respectively. The INF Treaty not being functional and with recent backing down of US and Russia could easily compel China to expand its arsenal mainly citing security concerns and securing national interests.
These serious turn of events could lead to the next Cold War between powers like USA, Russia and emerging powers like China, creating a vacuum of trust between countries trying to safeguard their regional and global footing in world affairs and can only be discouraged with multilateral talks between nuclear-powered countries with needs utmost care in the negotiating process to avoid a free-fall into a major arms race in the present time