Under the malign influence of U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, who views international law as a tool of the weak, President Trump has recently announced his intention to “terminate” the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This landmark nuclear arms control agreement helped end the Cold War arms race by banning an entire class of destabilizing U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons that were deployed in Europe.
“The decision [to terminate the INF Treaty] is an unnecessary and self-defeating wrong turn that could lead to an unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms competition with Russia”, comments Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball.
The ostensible reason for U.S. withdrawal is that Russia is cheating by developing and deploying small numbers of a land-based missile within the prohibited range. But John Bolton has made no secret of his opposition to what he calls an “obsolete treaty“, even without Russian violations. Russia, for its part, points to longstanding concerns over U.S. missile interceptor launchers deployed in Europe that might also be used to deliver prohibited offensive missiles.
Russian disquiet has its origin in an earlier treaty abrogation by the U.S. — in 2001 when George W. Bush unilaterally walked away from the Russia–U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972. A muted initial response by Russia changed dramatically when the U.S. announced plans in 2007 to build a new missile defence system in eastern Europe.
“We were extremely concerned and disappointed…. It brings tremendous change to the strategic balance in Europe and to the world’s strategic stability.” – Kremlin chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov
It is hard to see what the U.S. gains by ditching the INF Treaty. It removes all further constraints on Russian deployment of hitherto prohibited missiles at a time when the U.S. has no equivalent land-based systems to deploy, and little likelihood of securing allied agreement to their placement on European soil, if they did have them.
If the bigger American worry is China, which is not a party to the INF Treaty and which has focused 95 per cent of its missile force on intermediate-range systems, withdrawal does nothing to constrain China, while the U.S. will face further uphill battles to convince allies in the region to host new American intermediate systems.
But if the military benefits to the U.S. of its withdrawal from the INF Treaty seem dubious, the diplomatic implications are clearly negative, with the controversial American action further splitting the alliance at an already difficult time in transatlantic relations.
“Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972…. It is now all the more important to get a serious U.S.–Russian arms control dialogue back on track. If not, an even more dangerous phase in U.S.–Russian relations is just over the horizon.” – Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association
For his part, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass has pledged to leave “no stone unturned in the effort to bring Moscow and Washington back to the table one more time.”
Order of Canada Members call on Canada to act
As yet there has been little comment by Canada’s Department of Global Affairs on this extremely negative development for arms control and international stability. We endorse the Letter sent by Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (CNWC), representing over 1000 members of the Order of Canada, urging Canada:
“to act with urgency and persistence and to stand for a return to the careful, painstaking, and unrelenting diplomacy of nuclear arms control and disarmament.”
For further reaction to the impending INF pull-out, see: INF Termination Is Bad, but It Could Get Worse (Daryl G.Kimball, Arms Control Today, November 2018).
For a lively commentary by Gwynne Dyer on the misguided views on both sides that have led to this decision, see: The INF Treaty: idiots on both sides (The Telegram, 27 October 2018).
Photo credit: Wikimedia images (Gorbachev/Reagan INF signing).