12 June 2019

Consequences of suspending the Intermediate Nuclear Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Sergiu Medar

Image source: Mediafax

On 1st of February 2019, the US officially announced their 6-months period suspension from the INF Treaty, signed with URSS in 1987. The reason of the pullout is that Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union, is building a new missile, which is trying to break treaty’s provisions. Russia, also, announced, a day later, its suspension from the treaty for the same period, accusing the American part for breaking the provisions of this treaty by placing missile launchers in Romania and Poland. Trump’s Administration decision is affecting Washington’s relations with its European allies, given that the US has initially signed the treaty in behalf of the NATO states. At least at a declaratory level, they aim at renegotiating the INF treaty to include China also in its provisions.

The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty- INF, formally the “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” was signed on 8th of December 1987, by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. This was asking for the two nations to destroy, each of them, the missiles and launchers, from land, with a range of action between 500-1000 km (short range) and 1000-5000 km (intermediate range of action). This category's missiles could carry nuclear, conventional or any other type of charges. The treaty could not be applied to missiles launched from air or the sea. This way, until 1992, there were destructed 2962 missiles, and were followed by 10 years of mutual checks at the old launching bases. The US signed this treaty also in behalf of the NATO states. These and URSS/Russia did not have the right to have, produce and research any missile which could be subjected to treaty’s provisions.

The provisions of the INF treaty are applied only to the signatory states: the US (respectively NATO) and URSS/Russia. These are not applied, for example, to China, whose missile arsenal has 85% of this type of missiles.

On 20th of October 2018, president Trump has announced that because Russia, through its actions, got out of treaty’s terms, he will withdraw the US from the INF treaty. The announced decision was implemented on 1st of February 2019, when the US announced its suspension on a 6 months- period. The second day, Russia announced a similar decision.

Some months before the official announcement of both parts, 1st and 2nd of February, there were discussions in Moscow, between John Bolton, Trump’s security counsellor and Nicolai Patrusev, the national security counsellor of Russia’s president, together with Serghei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister. Both parts accused each other on breaking the treaty. The US has accused Russia for developing a new type of missile, meanwhile Moscow has accused Washington for deploying nuclear bases in Romania and Poland, although the launchers placed here are exclusively dedicated to missiles which could strike air targets.

Initially, NATO has stated that “allies are fully supporting this actions”, mentioning also that “The United States initially made this decision as a response to the significant risk for the Euro-Atlantic security, of Russia’s testing, production and installation of the 9M729 system, launched from the ground”.

The European leaders are supporting US in their request for Russia to enter treaty’s provisions and be more transparent regarding the new type of missile. At the same time, they are opposing the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty given its success since its foundation. “The INF treaty contributed to the end of the cold-war and constitutes a pillar of European security architecture since it entered into force 30 years ago”, said Mrs. Federica Mogherini’s spokesperson, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.  

The day after president Trump’s announcement on planning to pull out the US from the INF Treaty, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, called the chief of the American Administration underlining the great importance of the treaty for the European security.

Oliver Meier, from the German Institute for International and Security Businesses, has stated that Trump’s decision to give up the treaty “puts the Germans in a difficult position”, mentioning that: “There is a fear that in a post-INF world, discussions among NATO allies about appropriate military responses to Russia’s actions would become more difficult,” Meier said. “There is little faith that deployment of additional ground-launched cruise missiles would convince Russia to come back to the table. All of this would play into Putin’s hand”.

The White House leader thinks that this announcement will be an effective method to negotiate a new treaty. The 6 months period until the actual withdrawal should be enough to make this process happen. The US intends to include China also in this treaty, something extremely difficult as it would mean for Beijing to give up to almost all its missile arsenal, which is impossible given the current circumstances. Considering how all the actions around INF have developed, it seems that the US is more interested in new treaty’s effects over China, rather than over Russia.

It is important to anticipate, on these Russia and US processes, what is going to happen after this treaty will stop working. In a recent audition in the US Senate, General Curtis Scaparrotti, former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces from Europe, was underlining that the US Armed Forces do not have a plan yet for preventing Russia’s production and installation of some new missile launchers with nuclear charges whose targets to be on Europe’s territory.

Revealing that NATO was informed about the US decision, the American General was saying that: “we actually said to our NATO allies that we will try to make this (post-INF) planning in collaboration with them. We have start it. They do not know what the phase of this plan today is”.

A possible negotiations of a new treaty may not led to all intermediate range of action missiles destruction, as China is completely against this process, but it would limit the development of new missiles, this way preventing a competition on their development.

During the hearing, Scaparrotti has stated that the INF treaty is not Russia’s only challenge against the US actions to consolidate the European security, drawing the attention on Turkey’s possible acquisition of Russian anti-air missile systems S-400, which could push US to reconsider its decision on delivering to Ankara the F-35 aircrafts, despite Turkey’s financial participation at the construction of the most modern fight aircrafts of our times.

The Trump Administration has announced that after the withdrawal from the INF treaty it does not intend to install new missile systems in Europe. By making this announcement we do not exclude the possibility for Trump to actually use this opportunity for a negotiation, however not with Russia but, indirectly, with the European Union. By announcing that he does not plan on dislocating other missile systems on the European territory, the White House leader would actually plan to force the Western allies to build these equipments on their own, in order to defend their European territory. This way, he would follow the Trump Administration’s international policy on not spending from the American tax payers’ money for other states when these are not allocating enough for their own security.

On less than two years the New START treaty on ballistic nuclear missiles will be renegotiated. If the INF treaty will not be gone, this will remain the only treaty to regulate and limit the nuclear weapons and also prevent a new arms race. For now, the signatory states, US and Russia, did not make any statements to that end.

The reactions against the US pullout from the INF treaty did not emerge only in some European states, but also across the United States. On 15th of February, Mrs. Tulsi Gabbard, member of the majoritarian democratic group from the Representatives Chamber, has introduced a law which could block US’s withdrawal from the treaty. In a press conference organized for it, Mrs. Gabbard was stating: “we face a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe today, now more than ever before in the history…The president Trump’s reckless decision to pull out of the INF treaty heightens the escalation of a new Cold War, sparking a new arms race between the United Stated and Russia and also heightens the danger of nuclear holocaust”. Probably this legislation will be voted in Representatives Chamber, where democrats are the majoritarian, but it is likely to pass through the Senate as well, where the republicans are majoritarian. Hence, it is difficult for the US withdrawal from the treaty to be blocked in the US Congress.

At the press conference held in Luxemburg, at the end of February, the Russian prime-minister, Dimitri Medvedev, was underlining that the US did not just self-suspended from the INF Treaty, but they have completely withdraw from it. The Russian prime-minister stated that: “the US unilateral decision is, probably, affecting the global security there is no doubt about it”.

Trump’s Administration decision to pull out from the INF treaty is complicating even more its relation with the European Union, which is now becoming more economically and military dependent on Russia’s attitude. Having the advantage to military dominate Europe, Russia will, probably, try to use this advantage and to activate new propaganda measures by which, on short-term, to intensify European’s distrust in Trump’s Administration and, on long-term, to undermine the whole transatlantic security construction.

In this whole time, China will, probably, try to stay out of this equation, leaving the US and EU to consume their energies in an anti-Russia rhetoric.

Translated by Andreea Soare