The Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty had a lasting impact on stability in Europe for decades. It’s dismantling throws open a wide range of possibilities that can also increase threat levels in Europe. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is also not favoured by Trump and is due to lapse in 2021, if the five year extension clause is not utilised. In the absence of any other treaty not yet having evolved, there is a possibility of the checks and balances so far operative being thrown to the winds. The author provides an analytical narrative that addresses the issues comprehensibly.
A New Nuclear Arms Control Treaty: The Need of the Hour
On October 20, 2018, during an election rally, the US President stated the intention of terminating the 1987 Intermediate – Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF).The US National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Moscow on 22-23 October and confirmed the US intentions. US, since 2014, has accused Russia of violating the treaty, with Russia denying.
The INF Treaty
NATO, in 1979 adopted a “Dual Track policy”. It agreed for deployment of Intermediate Range missiles in Europe while alongside the US initiated talks with erstwhile Soviet Union for mutually limiting the deployment of such missiles. In December 1987,the heads of State of US and Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed this historic treaty.
The INF banned all Soviet and US land based cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 to 5500 km. Since it’s coming into force in 1988, within three years US and Soviet Union destroyed 2700 missiles. The destruction was undertaken under strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Commission and other watchdogs. It paved the way for long lasting peace and prosperity in Europe and the world in general. It was truly a landmark treaty and has held its ground for 30 years;possible due to strict periodic verification measures, including onsite inspections.INF has kept Europe free of nuclear weapons, within the specifications of INF, till now.
It was in early 2000 that the world started to witness the development and deployment of missiles banned under INF in China, N Korea, S Korea India, Pakistan, Iran, and Israel. Russia (successor of erstwhile Soviet Union), threatened by such development, as it was within range of some of these new missile regimes, voiced its concern. In an apparent move to safeguard its interests,Russia, instead of withdrawing officially from the treaty, developed and deployed a land based cruise missile within the prohibited range of INF, based on mobile launcher platforms, making detection of their position difficult. In 2017, this system was identified as the 9M 729 or SSC -8 as per NATO designation. This act of Russia is apparentlycentral to the demise of this treaty.
The deployment of 9M 729 has also been seen as a counter to US deployment of Aegis Ashore Missile Shield in Rumania and its proposed deployment in Poland. Russia is also wary of this Missile Shields’ capabilities to fire nuclear tipped Tomahawk Cruise Missiles. Both sides have refused inspection of the weapons and the deployment sites.
Since the collapse of Soviet Union, the reshaping of Europe and success of EU in trading with Russia, the Russian threat to Europe in European perceptions had mitigated. These possibly were reasons for a muted European response to the development and deployment of the 9M 729 missile system. NATO urged Russia to address the concerns raised by US “in a substantial and transparent manner and to actively engage in a technical dialogue with US”. The European states did not build pressure on Russia to take remedial actions, to resuscitate the INF.This benign European response and the development of such nuclear weapons by other nations made US resolute in abandoning the INF.
In 2016 that US convened a meeting of the Special Verification Commission under the INF treaty.US also deployed Aegis Ashore Missile Shield in some European nations and boosted US military presence in Europe, under the European Reassurance initiative.
In Dec 2018, on the 30th anniversary of the Treaty, the Trump administration announced convening of Special Verification Commission, creating a development programme for land based cruise missile and enforcing economic sanctions on Russia, all to bring back Russia to compliance with the INF treaty. But as development of a missile system will take years and knowing that deployment of missiles again in Europe will generate a huge public backlash, US steps did not pressurise Russia to reconsider its position.This along with the entry of other countries armed with nuclear missiles prohibited in INF, made the demise of INF, a foregone conclusion.
The US Administration has also expressed its displeasure with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START) signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry in April 2010. Its maingains are that it restricts both the nations to not more than 1550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles (atotal of land, air and sea launched systems). This Treaty terminates in 2021 with aprovision to extend it for another five years ,up to 2026.The treaty has very strict inbuilt checks and balances of inspections and information sharing about movement of missiles. This has ensured compliance and lifted the veil of secrecy, being overseen by independent watchdogs.
In case US withdraws from this treaty or does not extend it , both US and Russian strategic forces will be left wholly unconstrained and signal the end of the flow of valuable information from the treaty’s onsite verification and onsite inspection provisions.
The US intention of abandoning the INF also stems from the fact that China is not a signatory to the INF. China’s growing economic and military clout including development of Nuclear weapons and their triad in delivery system in all dimensions less space, its OBOR project, all have rung alarm bells in the world, particularly in USA which sees its hegemony in the world under threat. Russia too, as earlier stated, developed and deployed 9M 729 as it felt threatened by China,
What goes against the arguments of both US and Russia to violate or to terminate the existing INF is that both have the air and the land based capabilities to overcome the limitations laid down by the INF.
World enters into Dangerous Era
We are possibly seeing the start of a new era of strategic competition between Russia and USA. It’s unfolding in Syria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan. also in the domains of cyber and information warfare. The Russian tacit encouragement to the rise of Right Wing in Europe is putting the present EU – Russia relations under strain.
Annulment of INF and non-extension of New START will enable Russia to deploy short and medium range nuclear weapons against Europe and China.In case US does develop Intermediate range nuclear weapons, it will have to find allies in Europe and in Asia to deploy these systems against Russia and China, which given the past European record, will invite serious public backlash, as then the host nation becomes target of retaliation. This will lead on to unstable times in the world and the start of a new Nuclear Arms race.
US in its recent Nuclear Posture Review, has stated the following intent:-
- To develop more nuclear low yield weapons; easy to deliver.
- To retaliate to Cyber attacks with low yield weapons.
- To negate the Russian advantage of possessing 300 more Nuclear Warheads by producing more warheads.
The Russian wish list of 1 May 2018 envisioned the following –
- To produce a nuclear powered cruise missile capable of hitting any target in the world at a speed which will render Missile Defence Systems,defenceless.
- To develop Drone Submarines (Nuclear powered, Nuclear armed) which can target any port around the world.
The Urgent Need.
The emergence of the new players in the arena of nuclear warfare, the imminent abrogation of the INF and the 2021 deadline of New START,all are harbingers of dangerous times ahead. It all dictates that the UN must step in and immediately convene a Commission of all players to formulate and execute anew Nuclear Arms Control Treaty which not only limits the holdings of the nuclear warheads and their delivery system but also creates a verification and communication mechanism for free flow of information, to prevent any misadventure. This will usher in an era of peace and stability,in a world already on the edge due totrade sanctions, hegemony of dollar, global warming, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Korean peninsula , Afghanistan, rise of autocratic rulers in Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia. China, N Korea and the strong emergence of violent non state actors.
India should take the Initiative
Emerging India with its nuclear capabilities is all too aware of the grave danger posed by the unchecked,unverified possession of similar weapons with their delivery systems in Pakistan and China. India, on the strength of its rise as the fastest growing economy in the world, its strong Armed Forces, strategic mass and location, its strong strategic ties with Russia, USA and Israel and strong trade ties with China and EU, is in a strong position to take the initiative to initiate the process of such a Nuclear Arms Control treaty, under the aegis of UN. It must seize the moment, to make the world a safer place.
Col RN Ghosh Dastidar (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)