Insights into Editorial: Preserving the taboo: on nuclear arms control
Context of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty:
U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the U.S. is quitting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a bilateral agreement with Russia signed in 1987.
The decision was not unexpected since the U.S. has long maintained that Russia has been violating the treaty and Mr. Trump has been critical of arms control agreements because, according to him, other countries cheat putting the U.S. at a disadvantage.
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty:
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty, formally Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles) is a 1987 arms control agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Under the INF Treaty, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed to eliminate within three years all ground-launched-missiles of 500-5,500 km range and not to develop, produce or deploy these in future.
The U.S. destroyed 846 Pershing IIs and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) and the U.S.S.R., 1,846 missiles (SS-4s, SS-5s and SS-20s), along with its support facilities.
Importance of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in U.S.-Russia relations:
Under the Treaty, the two parties agreed that a whole important class of nuclear weapons would be removed from Europe, and only tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) or short-range missiles mostly deployed on the territory of Germany would remain.
The INF Treaty for years served to mitigate fears of both parties in relation to possibility of military escalation, operational miscalculation, and helping to shift the logic of MAD [mutually assured destruction] to the higher “more sensitive” political level.
Adverse consequence of the present decision by Mr.Trump:
Mr. Trump’s decision has generated dismay and concern that this will trigger a new nuclear arms race in Europe and elsewhere.
What it ignores is that the INF Treaty reflected the political reality of the Cold War of a bi-polar world with two nuclear superpowers no longer consistent with today’s multi-polar nuclear world.
The greater challenge today is to understand that existing nuclear arms control instruments can only be preserved if these evolve to take new realities into account.
What is the impact of U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty on China?
Intermediate-range missile systems and cruise missiles would considerably enrich U.S. capabilities in a potential clash over Taiwan or other contentious strategic issue.
As the PLA of China has a variety of cruise missiles that can be launched from land, air, sea, and sub-surface platforms, returning to intermediate-range systems would equip American forces with the capability to strike targets that are highly difficult to penetrate for conventional weapons at present.
Meanwhile, vectoral enhancement of political relations with states all over the world, particularly those that are economically and politically affiliated to China, with possible shows of economic might and deeper engagement on the field of security.
All this will serve as a catalyst of economic allegiance and a probe of America’s security creed, especially in the region of the Pacific and Asia.
Nevertheless, joining the arms race in Asia may lead China into a trap of “competitive strategy.”
Foreign and Security policy consequences for U.S. nuclear deterrence in the absence of the INF treaty:
Leaving the INF Treaty would allow the U.S. to balance the military technology gap with these assets, which has grown since 1980, especially between U.S. and China.
In harmony with the Limited Test Ban Treaty of the 1960s, SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty] and START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], the INF has had a codifying effect on the two superpowers’ strategic relations.
Washington’s leaving the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] and INF Treaty creates a formal agreement to vertical proliferation of WMD and gives higher status to the concept of power in international politics.
In today’s return of major power rivalry, it is no longer a bi-polar world, and nuclear arms control is no longer governed by a single binary equation.
There are multiple nuclear equations — U.S.-Russia, U.S.-China, U.S.-North Korea, India-Pakistan, India-China, but none is standalone.
Therefore, neither nuclear stability nor strategic stability in today’s world can be ensured by the U.S. and Russia alone and this requires us to think afresh.
The most important achievement of nuclear arms control is that the taboo against use of nuclear weapons has held since 1945.
Preserving the taboo is critical but this needs realisation that existing nuclear arms control has to be brought into line with today’s political realities.