US scrapping the INF treaty triggers a global arms race

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

It took 17 years for both the US and Russia – then USSR – to reach the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, leading to an end of the Cold War era that consequently led to three decades of strategic stability. In both bipolar and multi-polar systems, strategic stability has remained the core concept in the matrix of international relations.

The INF-Treaty provided a clear bench-mark, beyond which the signatories to the treaty could not develop and/or possess either ballistic or ground-launched missiles within a range of 500 km to 5500 km applying both to conventional or nuclear warheads.

Upon the treaty coming into effect on June 1, 1988, with a deadline for implication of June 1, 1991, 1,752 Russian and 859 US missiles were destroyed. However, since 2014, Washington has thrown accusations at Russia for violating the INF Treaty by deploying land launched missiles, with nuclear capability having a range of 2,000km. On the other hand, Moscow has consistently denied these charges.

On February 1, 2019, the US had issued a statement of her decision to withdraw from the treaty: “For far too long, Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad.  Tomorrow, the United States will suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty and begin the process of withdrawing from the INF Treaty, which will be completed in 6 months unless Russia comes back into compliance by destroying all of its violating missiles, launchers, and associated equipment”, said the US statement.

The reasons the Trump administration stated were not just the alleged violation by Russia rather added to the platter was also China’s military buildup. The US decision subsequently led to Russian decision of withdrawal from the treaty within 6 months.

The timing of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty is significant. On one side is rising China, whose global outreach the US wants to stall at all costs. Interestingly, China is under no obligation to honor the INF Treaty. To US, this signals an uneven playing field putting her at a definite strategic disadvantage. On the other hand are mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran and Russia are on the same side of the fence in many global issues, including Syria.

Although Moscow has tried all diplomatic channels to preserve the agreement with other signatories, the efforts did not bear any fruit.

These developments, surely, are dangerous for global stability and peace.

Not only does it absolve the US of any obligations to limit its nuclear and conventional warheads, both ballistic and ground-launched missiles, it does the same for Russia.

In a world where both are struggling for greater influence globally – with fewer nations facing military aggression in this Game of Thrones between the two – the dissolution of the treaty can lead to an aggressive campaign of arms proliferation.

Different nations had reacted differently to this breakdown. Where the UK had joined hands with the US to accuse Russia of violating the treaty, Germany had urged talks to resolve the issue stressing upon the negative cascading effects if it the treaty failed. The EU Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, in this regard, said, “The INF contributed to the end of the Cold War and constitutes a pillar of European security architecture.”

The possible scenarios resulting from the dissolution of the INF require serious introspection.

Many Russian experts believe that this decision by the Trump administration is in line with President Trump’s “America First” approach. The first treaty Trump left upon assuming his presidency was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); a step that increased the US sense of economic and trade insecurity vis-à-vis China.

China understandably supported continuation of the treaty stressing upon constructive dialogue.

The question now arising once the treaty is dissolved is; will the US chart a course of huge deployments of [currently banned] missiles in Europe?

This is not likely as in all likelihood, Washington will face strong resistance from the European nations. There will be a fear – and quite legitimate – that such a step will lead to a similar response by Russia that will lead to global insecurity.

Also, Trump escalating hostilities with Iran is viewed warily by European governments. If Trump further ups the ante against Iran, this will lead, in all probability, to European nations’ reduction in sanctions against Russia specifically in reference to Ukraine. On the other hand, it has also been reported that tensions with Iran will also help fuel “US arms business”.

Iran’s reliance on Moscow for support, vis-à-vis USA, is likely to increase. If Trump reduces Iran’s oil exports as a result of US sanctions, others will increase their exports to the loss of Iran.

Trump’s misstep in dissolving the INF Treaty along with increasing the level of tensions with Iran gives Putin an opportunity to exploit the issue and help create more frictions between the US and its NATO allies.

There is then another interesting question that arises; can the US, with INF out of the way, ethically and legally force sanctions upon Iran and force it to abandon its ballistic missile development, when the US herself has abandoned the INF Treaty?

Many experts feel that the allegations of Russian violation of the treaty are an excuse to accomplish USA’s major strategic goal of containing China. By walking out of the treaty, Washington gets a level playing field and develop military weapons that she cannot while remaining in the treaty.

Most nations will not offer their soil for use to the US, including South Korea and Japan, however, there is a slim chance of India agreeing to do so; not only support the US but also become its regional partner in containing the rising threat of China. In doing so, India might also aim to deliver a blow to Pakistan as well. The down side is, India may not like to attract Moscow’s ire and go against the concerns of the larger comity of nations. This can have its own ramifications.

A matter of concern in this step taken by the US is that with the dissolution of the INF, there is no new structure created to take its place to combat arms proliferation. And with no structure in place and with many nations possessing dangerous weapons, it will be a free fall towards a chaotic world order.

In such a scenario, each country will have the license to operate on its own without any guiding policy. This not only gives an opportunity to nations to develop weapons, but also makes it difficult to track and cease procurement of weapons by terrorists.

In such a scenario, is the world ready for this chaos?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

In arrangement with MatrixMag

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