Unpredictable consequences as US threatens to withdraw from INF missile treaty

Sunday, 2019-02-03 17:52:35
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The risk of a new arms race is becoming clearer, stemming from the risky decision of the administration of President Donald Trump to pull the US out of the INF. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – US President Donald Trump has warned of pulling the US out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) by deciding to activate a six-month process. The movement by the head of the White House is not too surprising, but the implications are unpredictable, as this legal document on the protection of Europe is close to the risk of collapse, leading to a new arms race.

According to Trump's decision, from February 2, the US stopped implementing its obligations under the INF framework and started the departure process, scheduled to be completed within the next six months, unless Russia returns to comply with the treaty by destroying all missiles, launchers and devices violating the INF. However, the US leader insisted on promoting dialogues to build a new arms control treaty. Speaking to the press, Trump expressed his hope to bring stakeholders into a “big and beautiful room and get a new treaty that would be much better."

The INF was signed by the US and Soviet leaders on December 8, 1987 and officially came into effect on June 1, 1988, whereby the two sides pledged not to produce, test or deploy medium and short range ballistic and cruise missiles. For the past few years, the US and Russia have repeatedly accused each other of violating the treaty, but still maintained their commitments, partly limiting dangerous threats. Controversy over this issue peaked, when, in October 2018, Trump accused Russia of violating the INF by manufacturing the Novator 9M729 missile. Two months later, the White House boss announced that he would withdraw from the INF if Moscow did not return to comply with the obligations within 60 days (as of February 2, 2019). However, Russia insisted on not destroying the missile, citing no violation of the INF.

The reason for the abandonment of the INF by Trump is that the US has complied with the treaty for the past 30 years and will not continue to be restricted by INF's terms, while Russia committed violations. Immediately, the Russian government condemned allegations against Moscow for violating the INF infidelity, saying that Russia has always supported and proposed dialogues with the US to resolve the controversy concerning INF, but will take appropriate actions in response once the US decides to withdraw from the important arms control document. The Russian side pointed out that withdrawing from the INF is part of the US national strategy to shake off its international legal commitments in multiple areas, so blaming Russia is just an "excuse" used by the US leader.

There is no denying the importance of the INF, especially in the current context when fierce strategic competition between Russia and the US and its European allies has not shown signs of cooling down. Even, the concerned parties still continue to modernise their strategic arsenal to strengthen their power. Together with the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (also called START-3), INF acts as an "anchor", restraining both the US and Russia from crossing the "red line" that could pose dangers to global security and stability. If implemented after the next six months, the US withdrawal from INF will undoubtedly severely damage the global arms control system, as well as efforts to prevent widespread weapons of mass destruction in the world. The risk of a new arms race is becoming clearer, stemming from the risky decision of the administration of President Donald Trump.

The next 180 days is important, as both the US and Russia are expected to prioritise dialogues to find a solution to rescue the INF. In fact, over the past few months, a series of efforts by both sides have not yet gained any result to save the INF. If the current tough stance is maintained for a long time, the two sides will find it difficult to find an "exit" for the current deadlock. Once the US officially withdraws from the treaty in early August, any new agreements between the US and Russia regarding strategic weapons will become extremely difficult.

The UN Secretary-General has stressed that INF plays an important role in the structure of international arms control. If it collapses, it will cause many serious dangers to the world. When threats, both traditional and non-traditional, appear more with more dangerous features, strategic arms control efforts will not succeed, without the cooperation between the two nuclear power – the US and Russia.