The United States announced that it is planning to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which it signed with Russia to prevent the development of missiles launched from ground which have a range of 500 km to 3500 km. This treaty was signed at a time when Russia was investing in research to develop cruise and ballistic missiles for the short range between 500 and 5500 km. It was seen as a watershed moment during the time of its agreement in 1987, and was one of the treaties which led to the decline of Cold War between the United States and USSR and required both countries to give up their collection of 846 and 1846 missiles respectively by 1989.It was continued even after the fall of USSR and prevented both the sides from developing intermediate missiles till the beginning of new millennium.
Considering the fact that these missiles had a short range and followed an unpredictable pattern of flight, this treaty was essentially created to prevent a nuclear threat to the European countries. The future of this treaty came under threat in July 2014 when the United States Secret Service (CIA) identified certain missiles designed by Russia as a potential violation of this treaty’s agreement and principles. However, under pressure from European countries, President Barack Obama decided to not revoke the treaty but rather use the diplomatic means to put pressure on Russia to prevent them from further pursuing the development of these missiles. On the other hand, when Donald Trump assumed office, he strongly criticized the approach taken by his predecessor, and announced that US believes that Russia had deployed the missile system in a practical and operational manner, with unfriendly intentions in mind.
Another reason why Donald Trump decided to revoke this treaty was due to the fact that it covers the just United States and Soviet Union; this was fine during the cold war era when it was signed, but considering the fact that many other countries are becoming more and more powerful in a multipolar world, it may have lost its relevance according to the USA. For instance, this treaty would not work well in a scenario where countries like China, who are not bound by this treaty, become sources of threat to the United States. This was also one of the concerns often raised by South Korea, Japan and many other countries surrounding the South China Sea. From this perspective, the withdrawal of the US from INF can be seen as an effort against China’s expansion, both geo-politically as well as economically.
While we cannot criticize the US or its President for withdrawing from this treaty, there could have been have been better ways of doing so. First and foremost, this treaty was largely meant for the safety of the countries in the European continent from the potential threat of a missile crisis from Russia. Since this treaty only covers the intermediate range missiles, neither Russia nor North America had any direct threat from the deployment or development of the same. Thus, the US withdrawal has in fact made European countries face a potential future missile crisis. Moreover, since the US is withdrawing from the treaty anonymously, Russia can use this as an example to further future arguments about why USA cannot be trusted as a faithful partner while entering international treaties.
Coming from Donald Trump, such behaviour is almost expected; he has withdrawn from the NAFTA and the Paris Accord earlier as well. If the fear of other nations developing missiles was truly the matter of concern, US could have used diplomacy to make other countries sign this treaty. For instance, the United States could have pressurized the Chinese through diplomatic tact to be a signatory of this treaty. The current decision taken by the US has dismantled this peaceful treaty, trying to recreate which in the near future would be very difficult and time-consuming. Another implication is that this will further increase the tension between Russia and NATO members in the European continent. Moreover, Russia will be now able to pursue the development of such missile systems in a publicized and open manner, without facing any accountability for its actions.
It is too early to determine whether this will create any instability in the political dynamics of the global order. It all depends upon how interested Russia is in developing the intermediate missiles in an era of cyber warfare, as well as the next moves of other countries like China who are currently developing such missile systems.
Picture Credits : npr.org