US’s Withdrawal from INF Treaty – Is it the End of Arms Control?

The United States President Donald Trump has recently announced that US will unilaterally pull out of 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which was signed by the US and Russia during Cold War era for banning all ground-launch nuclear missiles with the range between 500 and 5500 km. However, US accuses Russia to have developed a new medium-range missile and it has also been concerned about China which is not a signatory to the INF treaty, producing medium-range missiles.

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty?

  • The INF treaty was signed in 1987 between the former US President Ronald Reagan and his USSR counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • It was an important cold-war era treaty prohibiting development, testing and possession of ground-launched conventional as well as nuclear missiles of both short ranges (500-1000 km) and long ranges (1000-5500 km).

How was it significant?

  • This treaty played an important role in ending arms race between two superpowers during the cold war.
  • It has protected America’s NATO allies in Europe from Soviet missile attacks.
  • It was designed to incorporate some strategic stability on the European continent.

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Why the US wants to withdraw now? (Failure of arms control agreements)

Russian factor

  • Mr. Trump has accused Russia of violating the treaty for many years.
  • This accusation comes after Russia’s alleged development and deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles (AKA SSC-8), that could strike Europe at short notice.
  • Allegations about Russia violating the treaty pre-dates Trump presidency and go back to 2008 during President Obama administration.
    • Former US President Barack Obama raised the issue of Russia testing ground-launched cruise missile with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.
    • However, Russia had denied allegations and raised counter-allegations of the United States installing missile defence systems in Europe.
  • While the two nations failed to find resolution utilising the dispute resolution mechanism in the INF treaty, the United States remained a party to the treaty under pressure from its European allies.
  • But this time, the US decided to withdraw from the treaty altogether.

Other factors

  • As the treaty is only bilateral between the US and Russia, other nations like China were free to develop and deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles without restraint. This made the US feel that the INF treaty effectively placed them at a growing disadvantage in their strategic rivalry with China.
  • The Nuclear Posture Review of US calls for the more expansive role of nuclear arms in order to tackle the current security and environmental threats.
  • There is no clear demarcation between the nuclear and conventional weapons = possibility of misuse.
  • Furthermore, the nuclear arms control agreements were succeeded by the country’s boundaries and aspirations. For instance, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), failed to curb the nuclear proliferation of India, Pakistan, Israel since their boundary rivalries influenced the development of nuclear weapons in order to highlight each other’s strength on military capabilities.

Also read: MSP for MFP Scheme – Key Issues and Analysis

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What are the likely implications of the withdrawal?

  • It will enable the United States with the new nuclear weapon options in the Pacific in its quest to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
  • There are also concerns that the unilateral withdrawal from this treaty could start a new arms race between US and Russia and across Europe, similar to the one that was happening when the agreement was initially signed in the 1980s.

Thus the US withdrawal from the INF treaty highlights the need for radical reforms of present arms control treaties that have failed to achieve the desired goal.

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