13 February 2019 - 17:12
News Code 83208368
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Will INF withdrawal reignite arms race?

Tehran, Feb 13, IRNA/Global Times - On February 1, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Moscow will also pull out of the treaty in response to the US move.

The INF treaty was a crucial agreement on arms control between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It was signed by then US president Ronald Reagan and then Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

CNN reported that multiple US officials indicated the US 'could begin research and development on weapons previously barred by the INF Treaty.' According to BBC, on February 5, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia plans to develop new land-based missiles within the next two years.

Currently, neither Washington nor Moscow seems to be in a mood to compromise, which may lead to an arms race. However, it would not develop into a long-term race like the one during the Cold War.

Following the idea of 'America First', US President Donald Trump is reluctant to see his country bounded by limits that harm its own interests. Trump believes withdrawal is beneficial to the US and he may not take the negative aspect of the move into account.

For example, after exiting the INF Treaty, the US can develop missiles without restriction. As former US secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, Trump's withdrawal from the INF treaty was a 'gift' to Putin. As Trump's political opponent, she may be more sensitive to the adverse impact of Trump's action.

After quitting the INF Treaty, the US can no longer impose restriction on its rivals. Both the US and Russia declared they will withdraw from the treaty and Russia will not be restrained by the agreement any more. Gorbachev made certain concessions when the treaty was signed in 1987, and the US was in an advantageous position. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union had its advantages in intermediate-range and short- and medium-range missiles. It lost the upper-hand over the US after destroying the weapons to meet treaty requirements.

When the treaty was signed, NATO members in Europe were the beneficiaries. The intermediate-range, short- and medium-range missiles of the Soviet Union mainly threatened US allies in Europe, not the US itself. The US withdrawal from the treaty may leave an impression on European countries that Washington will abandon its allies to pursue its own interests.
They would believe European states will not be protected by the treaty after the US pullout, and Europe may become victim. European countries are aware that guided by 'America First', Washington is likely to sacrifice its allies' interests in order to deal with the US rivals.

The US has two plans to cope with the INF Treaty. One is to abolish it. Washington seems to be going in this direction.

Another one is to modify the bilateral treaty into a multilateral accord. Apart from confronting Moscow, Washington is also considering how to tackle other rivals, especially China. It believes the restrictions should not only apply to the US and Russia, but should also restrict countries like China and Iran, which are capable of making missiles.

China opposed US withdrawal from the treaty and the proposal to change the accord from bilateral to a multilateral one.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on February 2, 'China opposes the multilateralization of this treaty. What is imperative at the moment is to uphold the implement of the existing treaty instead of creating a new one.'

However, US withdrawal will put pressure on China, since the former will contribute more to developing intermediate and short- and medium-range missiles. The US increasing military power will pose a potential threat to China.

Dealing with US and Russian withdrawal of the INF Treaty needs the collective wisdom of global politicians. The system of arms control needs to be maintained. No country can secure absolute safety at the expense of international security. A nation needs to take into account the overall and long-term interests of all human beings with a broader outlook.

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