“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,” the White House said in a statement
announcing the US pullout of the INF Treaty. On 2 February, the Trump administration announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the treaty within six months due to Russia’s noncompliance and violations. The treaty, which came into force in 1987, made the US and Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union) come to an agreement to put a halt on the arms race that escalated during the Cold War. The treaty required
the destruction of and banned the deployment of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers after the treaty entered into force. This resulted in both nations destroying a total of 2,692 missiles
by the time of implementation in 1991. The INF treaty was a landmark one, seen as essential in pacifying the rising tensions during the Cold War period and protecting those caught in the crossfires, specifically Europe. However, with the recent decision of Washington to withdraw, Moscow consequently announced that it would suspend its obligations towards the treaty as well. These developments have put the nuclear environment in a state of flux, with the future of similar commitments in jeopardy.
The treaty, which came into force in 1987, made the US and Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union) come to an agreement to put a halt on the arms race that escalated during the Cold War.
Russia’s violations of the treaty have been central to the rising tensions between the US and Russia, with Washington restating the need for Moscow to acknowledge the noncompliance issue and demanding a rectification of the treaty breach. According to the US, Russia’s Novator 9M729 cruise missile
was in direct violation of the treaty, a claim that Moscow vehemently denied. In the lead-up to the pullout, the US brought up the noncompliance issue on multiple occasions in order to urge Russia to comply with the agreement. The issue was brought up first in the 2014 Compliance Report
, with Washington suggesting that Russia was in violation of the treaty and that the US would continue to pursue resolution. Additionally, NATO voiced concerns
about Russia’s violations and persistently petitioned Moscow to fully comply with the treaty. The US further reiterated
its stance on Russia’s violations in its 2017 Compliance Report. Moscow had brought up
the dispute in front of the UN. General Assembly as well, where Washington reasserted its claims about Russia’s noncompliance. The dominant narrative from the US had been along these lines in the run-up to the pullout. However, there were no tangible changes that arose out of the US’ attempts which further threatened the treaty’s existence.
the US’ assertions and argued that the INF treaty has been an important pillar in maintaining peace and security in a post-Cold War world. However, the withdrawal, although expected for months, comes as a massive blow to the already-crumbling status-quo in the broad nuclear and arms control domain. The dialogue between the two countries has also not seen much progress, both using certain blame-tactics for the current standoff. Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, announced in a press conference, that Russia was in a “material breach
” of the treaty which justified the US decision. In response, a Kremlin spokesperson accused the US of avoiding the possibility of “substantial talks
”, touted as critical in jeopardising the treaty.
The current dynamics in the nuclear domain warrant a renewed focus on stability over the ensuing power struggle.
These developments impact upon the current nuclear environment in multiple damaging ways. The treaty withdrawal signals major concerns around the future of arms control treaties and agreements, and the nuclear governance architecture, as a whole. The current dynamics in the nuclear domain warrant a renewed focus on stability over the ensuing power struggle. Although the INF treaty may be seen as an archaic concept in the current evolving multipolar world, it had attained significance in maintaining checks and balances on the two nuclear powers.
There has been criticism coming out of Washington in terms of the exclusionary nature of the treaty, which for example, ignores the impact of China’s nuclear programme
on the current world order. From the US perspective, China’s growing presence in the nuclear domain justifies the creation of mechanisms that bring it under the scope of accountability. The China factor in Washington’s decision cannot be ignored. However, in a response to these developments, China urged the US and Russia to maintain the INF treaty in its current form. The possibility of a new multilateral agreement with China was swiftly shut down
However, the United States’ approach to deal with the noncompliance is inherently problematic, as seen from Russia’s counter-response perspective, because it may have little to no effect in curbing Russia’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, in the case of China’s response to the pullout, the scope for a new multilateral agreement seems far-fetched. The lack of an agreement between the two countries signals the possibility of dangerous advances in the nuclear programmes of the US and Russia, and other states.
The China factor in Washington’s decision cannot be ignored.
Additionally, there has been uncertainty within the international community that backs the implications of the collapse of the INF Treaty. Japan, an ally of the United States, has reluctantly backed
Washington’s decision to withdraw, citing the impact this may have on international security. China’s foreign ministry also raised concerns and suggested that it was not in favour of replacing the INF treaty with a new multilateral agreement as the issues were “too complicated
” and previous agreements should be honoured. Furthermore, there has been concern
within Europe about the direct impact it may have on the stability of the region. Europe falls directly within the range of missiles covered by the treaty, and this has given way to new uncertainty and potential risks for Europe. The developments in the international security domain suggest that Washington’s intent is unlikely to result in compliance from Moscow.
The lack of concrete security architectures has been detrimental to stability in the international nuclear domain. Although the INF treaty may seem outdated in essence, it was crucial in making the two powers accountable. The demise of the treaty will create an ominous atmosphere around the future of arms control. The intention behind these recent developments has been to strengthen compliance and stability, but the likelihood of a more aggressive arms race looms large over the nuclear domain. The global nuclear environment desperately requires more accountability mechanisms that can help maintain international stability and security. However, giving up on existing treaty mechanisms that have provided a semblance of stability on account of non-compliance does not augur well from a strategic stability perspective. In fact, there must be an active effort to create agreements and initiatives that have the potential to replace the old ones and improve upon the inadequacies of the treaties from the past. The lack of consensus amongst key nuclear actors, under the current international political climate, has resulted in uncertain dynamics for the current and future arms control arrangements. As seen from the responses and consequences of the US pullout of the INF treaty, the state of stability and security in the international domain is in jeopardy and a rebalance of focus and power is urgently needed.
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