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The US withdrawal from the INF and its impacts

On October 20th 2018, US President stated that the U.S. would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed by this country and the Soviet Union in 1987. The reasons for this decision and its impacts on the world’s security have attracted great attention from the public.

US President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Gorbachev at the signing ceremony of the INF
(photo: AFP)

The INF was signed by the US President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Gorbachev on December 8th 1987 and in effect since June 1st 1988. The Treaty was aimed at providing a legal mechanism for preventing the risk of a pre-emptive land-based short medium-range and intermediate-range nuclear strike in the Europe. According to the Treaty, the two nuclear powers pledged to eliminate and never use all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. Following this Treaty, the U.S. and Russia eliminated 846 short medium-range missiles and 1,846 intermediate-range missiles. According to military experts around the globe, over the past 30 years, the INF has been the most important legal basis and barrier to the arms race between Russia and the US, while helping maintain the strategic balance in the Europe. Nevertheless, the current disagreement between the two countries and the geo-political and geo-strategic competition between major powers have led to a change in the “fate” of this important Treaty.

The US withdrawal from the INF and Russia’s responses

On October 20th 2018, US President stated that America would withdraw from the INF for many reasons that Russia violated the Treaty for many years, and other major powers which did not join the INF developed land-based intermediate-range missiles “out of control”. President Donald Trump believed that those violations denied and “neutralized” the INF. To defend their President’s opinion, several officials from the Pentagon explained that for many years, Russia had secretly developed new-generation missiles, especially some cruise missiles which were believed to be capable of penetrating America’s missile defence system in the Europe, thereby threatening both America and the NATO. Meanwhile, due to its pledges in the INF, America could not develop or deploy a land-based short medium-range and intermediate-range missile system. Besides, other nuclear powers, such as China and Iran are free to develop and make missiles of same types more increasingly advanced as they did not join the Treaty. Against that backdrop, unless America opportunely adjusts its nuclear strategy, it will possibly become “backward” in developing land-based missiles and definitely encounter disadvantages when carrying out operations on the key battlefields around the world in the event of a conflict. For those reasons, America believes that the INF has been outdated as it could not meet the goals and requirements set by reality.

Meanwhile, Russia rejects America’s allegations that it violated the INF, adding that those brazen allegations are only aimed at covering the US global-scale strategy. According to Moscow, the INF was designed to formulate the uniformed measures for maintaining the strategic balance in the Europe, not dealing with all issues between Russia and America. In fact, over the past years, the two countries have destroyed thousands of short medium-range and intermediate-range missiles in their armouries under the supervision. Those results have proved the two sides’ responsibility for building and maintaining a peaceful, stable environment and the strategic balance in the Europe, while contributing to regulating and reducing the risk of a nuclear attack on this continent. However, Moscow also clearly points out that regardless of those encouraging results, the US has still seen Russia as its “potential rival” and stepped up a policy of containment against Russia. Typically in 2001, George W. Bush Administration unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) signed by America and the Soviet Union in 1972 to develop the National Missile Defence (NMD) and the Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) with a view to neutralizing Russia’s missile system. Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has made all possible excuses, such as Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine’s crisis, Syria’s conflict, US Presidential Election, poisoning of a Russian double agent in the UK to increase economic, financial sanctions against Russia and exert constant pressure on this country. At the same time, America has enhanced the “move eastwards” policy, enlarging the NATO closer to Russia’s border, organizing many large-scale joint exercises with the NATO in order to show off its strength and deter Moscow. Besides, America has sought to build the facilities to deploy land-based missile launchers in the Europe and the missile defence system in several Eastern European countries bordering Russia. Moscow considers those moves by America as violations of the INF and reasons for making the relations between the two countries more tense. Therefore, the reason invented by America that Russia violated the INF is in fact a tactic by the US to realize the Nuclear Policy recently passed by the White House which is aimed at making the US Military the most powerful military in American history with the absolute superiority in conventional and nuclear weapons, containing the competition and rise of America’s rivals, continuing to maintaining its role as the world’s most powerful country.

Unpredictable impacts

According to experts, when America withdraws from the INF to develop short land-based medium-range and intermediate-range missiles, it will effectuate the strategic imbalance on a global scale. And that will force Russia and other major powers to adopt military measures to defend their national security and interests and respond to the threat which is believed to be caused by the US global hegemony. The competition for the advantage in missiles between America and major powers could become an uncontrollable nuclear arms race seriously threatening the world’s security and stability.

After US President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from the INF, Moscow still left the possibility of negotiating with America open in a bid to resolve differences in this issue. However, Russia is prepared to take retaliatory actions, even military ones to protect its national security and interests. According to military experts from many countries, it was a calculated intrigue by America when it regarded Russia and China as “rival powers” in its National Security Strategy of 2018. Its allegations against Russia and criticisms of China’s development of intermediate-range missiles were an excuse for its unilateral withdrawal from the INF. Many experts believed that those “unfriendly”, “hostile” actions by America not only made the US-Russian relations and the US-Chinese relations more complex, but also posed a high risk of a new “Cold War”. Following the collapse of the INF, if the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START III) between America and Russia was not extended (it will expire by 2021), the world’s future would be extremely complicated and unpredictable due to the risk of being plunged into chaos by the uncontrollable development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Military officials from several Western Europe seemed pessimistic when the relations between America and the EU was in the “worst” period ever due to the risk of a trade war and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal; therefore, the US withdrawal from the INF would be an “extra blow” to the relations between America and the EU which were described as “same bed, different dreams”. According to them, although the INF has not been complete or applied to all countries yet, it is the unique legal mechanism which is effectively maintaining the strategic balance and protecting the Europe from the possible nuclear conflicts. Over the past 30 years, the INF has played a role of paramount importance to the security and strategic balance in the Europe. If the INF is neutralized due to “unconvincing” reasons, in fact the Europe could become an arena for the confrontation between the two superpowers, namely America and Russia. Some generals of the NATO worry that due to short and hard-to-be-tracked route of land-based short medium-range and intermediate-range missiles, they will increase the risk of a nuclear war which is unpredictable, uncontrollable and extremely detrimental to the world’s security and stability. Meanwhile, a number of American experts believe that the US withdrawal from the INF will make the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and the issue on Iran’s nuclear program increasingly complex.

Nuclear weapons represent a breakthrough achievement of modern military science and technology. However, if not being using properly, they will become weapons of mass destruction and a threat to the survival of human beings. Perceiving that danger, in July 1968, the General Assembly of the United Nations ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In July 2017, it passed The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons with the aim of controlling and gradually eliminating all nuclear weapons on a global scale. Up to now, 124 out of 193 UN state members have joined this Treaty. However, it is ridiculous that some nuclear powers have not joined this Treaty yet; thus, removing all nuclear weapons in the world is still a thorny issue.

The current military history also proves that the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to other countries will only make international relations more complex and threaten the world’s security and peace. It is expected that America and Russia will invite other nuclear powers to join negotiations for making an INF a common compulsory legal mechanism for Russia, America and all other countries in order to prevent all conflicts using short medium-range and intermediate-range missiles as well as a new arms race which could threaten the security and stability of the Europe and the world.

Duc Minh

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