A new Cold War in the offing?
On October 20, President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, announced that he would withdraw his country from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Trump’s sudden decision follows a years-long US-Russian dispute about whether Moscow has developed and deployed a prohibited missile, known by its apparent Russian designation 9M729. President Trump and his hard-line aides, particularly his National Security Adviser, John R. Bolton, have long expressed their displeasure with the agreement because, they say, Russia is in violation of the terms and China is not a signatory. Announcing his decision, Trump said, Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons’, America would pull out and start building new nuclear arms.”
President Donald Trump announced his intention to exit the “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty” with Russia on the fringes of a campaign rally. He unequivocally announced that “Russia has not, unfortunately, honoured the agreement, so we are going to terminate the agreement, and we are going to pull out.” But, while the US President lashed out at Moscow, the real target of his INF move is likely China. Indeed, Trump says the treaty creates a military asymmetry between the United States and the Chinese giant, which is not an INF signatory and has a considerable arsenal of medium-range and intermediate-range cruise and ballistic projectiles.
There is a backstory to Trump’s impromptu announcement. It began in 2014, when the Obama administration first officially claimed that Moscow had violated the accord by producing and testing a ground-launched cruise missile not covered by the treaty. Then, the US argued that the cruise missile version SSC-8 Iskander-K is in violation of the INF Treaty because its estimated range – though unspecified – is beyond 500 km. Russia is also accused of having tested its RS-26 Rubezh missile – otherwise claimed to be long-range ICBM – at distances that violated INF guidelines. The US has maintained in every annual State Department report on arms control compliance since 2014 that Moscow is in violation of the INF treaty.
The Kremlin rejected the charge, but Washington was not convinced. In return, Russia censures the US of violating the INF Treaty because of its development of target missiles (the Hera) with a range of 1000 kilometres, armed drones which could be flown at ranges restricted under INF, and MK-41 missile launching systems installed in Romania and Poland as part of the American European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defence system.
Is Withdrawal in America’s Interest?
Steven Pifer, a former top State Department official and US ambassador to Ukraine who was also a part of the US team that negotiated the INF Treaty in the 1980s, opines against it. He says, “President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty now is a mistake … It will cause division within NATO — senior German, French and Italian officials have already questioned it — and the United States will be blamed for the treaty’s demise, despite the Russian violation.”
Read More: The End of Iran Nuclear Deal
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