GP Insights # 116, 3 August 2019
This week, the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces(INF) Treaty. A Cold war era-arms agreement signed in 1987, between the US and Russia, which necessitated them to eliminate both conventional and nuclear land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers with a range of 500km to 5500km. The US cited the development of its warheads and Russian violation of the treaty as being the reason for its withdrawal. In October 2018, the US announced its decision to withdraw, which was followed by its suspension of obligations in February this year. The act of suspension provided a window for Russia to revisit the treaty, which seemed unlikely to happen.
What is the background?
This comes in the backdrop of US and NATO alleging Russia for their violation of the treaty. The US, in its 2014 Compliance report, pointed out to Russia's development of warheads, which could undermine the terms of the treaty. The state department in its reports has repeatedly alleged Russia of dishonouring the agreement. Russia has continued to deny these allegations amidst US's warning to withdraw.
Russia, despite pressure from NATO and the US, failed to destroy their 9M729 cruise missile system which, according to the US, is a breach. Both the US and Russia are barred from launching these missiles, but this limitation does not extend to air and sea-based missiles. The agreement aimed to eliminate an entire class of missiles and limiting any further development of the same. It also necessitated on-site assessments and inspections, furthering accountability and strict control to avoid negative offsets.
What does it mean?
This move could essentially elevate the American position on arms trade and boost employment in the US. But it also risks the possibility of aggravating trade tensions concerning arms and strategic weapons. China already has a significant number of medium-range missiles in its armoury, which is also exported to Asia. The US pulling out of the treaty could help the Americans export similar missiles to Asia furthering arms tensions. With the US emerging as a player in this class, it could potentially disrupt the movement of the arms trade on a global level.
On the other hand, the range bandwidth and proximity under this class are equally threatening to neighbouring nations and elsewhere. Following this, one should not fail to anticipate harsher possibilities of conflict in the middle east and war-prone areas surrounding Syria and Africa. Also, this could intensify Iranian ambitions and North Korea's military adventurism.
What is interesting is it provides Russia with an undue advantage, which is notably ahead in this technology provoking the US furthermore. This development is also a blow to the rules-based order in arms control. Observing the American steps to arms diplomacy, it could also pose a threat to the fate of New Start Treaty, yet another agreement the US has with Russia which aims to limit strategic nuclear arms by a third, which is due for renewal in 2021.
While nations across the world produce medium-range missiles, as analysts suggest, limits imposed on the US in doing so could also have led them towards withdrawing from the arms agreement. This could unfold into a larger picture in the race for arms expedition. On a concluding note, radical steps and knee jerk reactions by superpowers in matters of defence and critical arms technology can destabilise efforts to non-proliferation and arms control