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CWA # 65, 10 November 2018

United States
The INF Treaty: Towards a new Security Dilemma

  Ryan Mitra

The INF treaty was one of the major agreements to address the Cold War arms race. The US withdrawal in 2018 is likely to leave a huge collateral and create a new security dilemma

Ryan Mitra is a Research Scholar at the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU)

The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty has been unravelling since the Obama administration. The US has been citing Russian violations since 2014. Even though no details were made public about these allegations, the US had stated that Russia was in violation of the obligation of not to “possess, produce, or flight-test” missiles by the treaty. In 2017, the US State Department provided details on the Russian military system noted as ‘9M729’ which, it believes, is in violation of the treaty.

The INF treaty was one of the major agreements to address the Cold War arms race. The US withdrawal in 2018 is likely to leave a huge collateral and create a new security dilemma.

 

The US-Russia Arms Race and the INF

The Cold War arms race was a highlight of paranoia about the adversary’s capabilities and the outstanding lengths to which one will go to protect. The arms race escalated astronomically due to those capabilities that the Cold War rivals developed and maintained mainly to deter and, even use against the other if hostilities ever broke out.

Seeing the detrimental impact of this arms race, on the individual economies of their respective countries and larger international relations altogether, the US and USSR established a series of arms control instruments. The INF was a principal and landmark treaty that reduced and banned land-based cruise and ballistic missiles between 500, and 5,500 kilometers. Ever since the signing of this treaty in 1988, there were attempts to stabilize the arms race.

Russia has placed allegations on the US for deploying a missile defense system-Mark 41 Vertical Launch System that was in violation to the treaty as well. The allegations from both sides were not substantiated and were unequivocally denied by both parties. Today, the INF has become the victim of the above.

 

The INF Long Reach

The INF had for a very long time mitigated the threats emerging from a relentless arms race, even beyond the Cold War, but the advent of multiple nuclear States in the 21st century highly undermined the fundamental premise of disarmament between two superpowers. As the security dilemma widened to countries that were not a party to this treaty, and that latter was overtly developing and manufacturing the class of weaponry that this treaty was established to limited, which inherently posed a significant threat to the party States’ national security and national interest.

The INF did apply globally, but countries like China and India were not interested to be a party to such a treaty as it would significantly restrict their capabilities to deter their adversaries thereby undermining their national security.

The Obama administration and even the Trump administration, early on, had a blend of soft and hard power in its approach to resolving the issue of violations within the mandate and confines of the treaty. The latter even announced a three-pronged strategy-a combination of diplomacy, tools of the instrument and economic sanctions, but to its chagrin, it failed to deter and reel back Russian growth or violations and never had a direct exchange regarding the same with Vladimir Putin. Though in reality, it is important to consider the impact this treaty had on the two countries vis-à-vis the growth of non-parties, especially the growing prowess of China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Both the United States and Russia have voiced concerns about the rapid growth in China’s arms technology and number of stockpiles, and the Asian giant has clearly stated how it is not interested in joining the treaty, and in consideration of it recent power projections in Asia, it is not bound to limit its growth either.

Evidently, the sphere of geopolitical conflict has outgrown the INF, but in spite of this the INF was an integral arms control mechanism between two powers that still continue to harbor a majority of the world’s destructive power. As seen, during the Obama administration itself, violations or not, the INF provided the soft comfort amongst all participating States about the weaponry in question and also allowed a (rare) effective redressal mechanism that both the countries have abided within the past.

 

Alternatives to the INF Withdrawal

The 9M729 is possibly in flagrant violation of the treaty, and if it is true, entities calling for US’ withdrawal are justified.

But the timing is not well suited. The US had the option of moving conventionally-armed Joint Air-to-Surface Strike Missiles to Europe and B1 bombers to serve as delivery platforms. It would have been compliant with all US treaty obligations and more importantly, could have caught Russia’s attention, something diplomacy and sanctions have failed to do.

Withdrawal should have been the last measure. There were still measures - manoeuvring existing military capabilities and instruments with the aid of NATO in Europe that would have seriously impacted Russia’s national security. It would have created room for diplomatic exchanges.

 

Consequences and Dilemmas

The withdrawal not only will hurt the US’ already deteriorating image, but also creates a scenario where even a push towards a defensive realist approach of unilateral growth in capabilities is adopted, it would in no way deter further action of the Russians. In reality, increasing expenditure and manufacturing arms to combat the growing challenge posed by the Russian sets up a two-fold detrimental impact for the West.

Besides the INF withdrawal, signs indicating a START withdrawal are bound to reanimate the security dilemma. The INF was the beginning of a new age of American-Russian relations, and a rare display of good faith relations along with accountability and transparency. In lieu of the latest complications in the relations of these two mammoths, the immediate and unclear withdrawal from this treaty will create a more malafide atmosphere in which tensions are bound to rise-now with a significantly less equipped redressal mechanism to restrain this escalation.

Furthermore, this is bound to cause conflict and disagreements, within the US and the larger alliance of NATO as well, in regards to pecuniary infrastructure and expenditure to meet the challenges the latest developments have brought, forcing serious restructuring if this flagrant violation is taken on its face value. Thus, an age-old dilemma will reemerge amongst the policymakers in the West about the growing paired minority conflict between US/NATO and Russia-forcing the former to return to investing in instruments that were a principal cause of the arms race during the Cold War.

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