If US quits INF Treaty, Europe loses

(Mikhail Gorbachev & Ronald Reagan signing the INF Treaty, Washington, December 1987)

The statement issued by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on December 4 regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty following the meeting of the foreign ministers of the alliance in Brussels puts the seal on the US decision to withdraw from the pact.

Washington has successfully rallied its European allies. Armed with NATO solidarity, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia a 60-day ultimatum to return to compliance with the Treaty. Pompeo hopes to make Russia the culpable party.

However, quite some time ago, the US had already made up it mind to scrap the treaty. The Congress even made provision in the Pentagon budget for R&D relating to intermediate missiles. But an alibi was needed. In 2002, the US unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty and dealt a body blow to international security without bothering to explain. On the contrary, INF Treaty is vital to European security and an alibi is necessary.

In some ways, the INF Treaty has become an anachronism, since it stipulated that the US and Russia should not produce intermediate range missiles. Whereas, many other countries make such weapons today. Washington decided that it too must have such weapons. Pompeo actually admitted this in his remarks on December 4 in Brussels. He said,

“Secondly, while Russia is responsible for the demise of the treaty, many other states – including China, North Korea, and Iran – are not parties to the INF Treaty. This leaves them free to build all the intermediate range missiles that they would like. There is no reason the United States should continue to cede this crucial military advantage to revisionist powers like China, in particular when these weapons are being used to threaten and coerce the United States and its allies in Asia.”

“If you ask the question why the treaty wasn’t enlarged to include more nations, including China, keep in mind that it has been tried three times without any success already, and it has failed each time.”

Moscow has calmly reacted. It called the US decision “reckless” and rejected the allegation regarding its non-compliance of the treaty. Once again, Moscow challenged Washington to provide specific details of any Russian violation. But Moscow senses a fait accompli. President Vladimir Putin said yesterday,

“The arguments cited are essentially clear: Russia and the United States are the only countries that do not produce weapons of this kind. This is actually true. Many other countries – probably about a dozen already – make such weapons, while Russia and the United States have limited themselves bilaterally. Now, apparently, our American partners decided that the situation has changed so much that the United States should also have such weapons.”

“What will our response be? Simple: then we will do it too.”

Arguably, it may suit Moscow to enhance its own deterrent capability by targeting Western Europe with nuclear missiles at a juncture when NATO continues to expand menacingly to the east and encircle Russia. If US scraps INF Treaty, Europe is going to be the loser. Second, Russia will arm itself to defang the NATO.

Indeed, one major dimension to the Ukraine crisis itself is the NATO’s growing power projection. The US, Canadian and British instructors are training the airborne assault and mechanised brigades of the Ukrainian armed forces in the ranges in the Zhytomyr and Lvov regions to prepare them for deployment in the conflict zone in Donbas.

The British press recently reported that the 77th brigade of the British armed forces is being deployed to Ukraine for conducting special cyber operations, as well as psychological and information warfare. Again, western private military contractors have been spotted on the contact line in Donbas, training Ukrainian spec ops personnel for undertaking offensive operations. In September – October, Ukraine held its annual joint military exercise, followed by a series of large air exercises, with the US and other NATO countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson disclosed at a briefing on Wednesday that the US is “proactively exploring a military build-up in Cyprus … with a view to setting up a forward deployment base for the US Armed Forces” with an eye on the growing Russian capability in eastern Mediterranean. The CNN reported on December 5 that the US is preparing to sail a warship into the Black Sea to challenge Russia’s preponderant presence.

No doubt, the steady build-up of NATO on Russia’s western border provides the backdrop to the demise of the INF Treaty. The US seeks a shift in the strategic balance in its favor. And it is shaking off all constraints limiting its arms build-up.

Curiously, on Wednesday, in a blatant provocation, US Navy sailed the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell “in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other Nations.” This is the first time in the past 35 years (since 1987) that the US conducted a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” in those waters claimed by Russia.

The Peter the Great Bay(where Vladivostok and Nakhodka Port are situated) is neither a disputed territory nor an international waterway as such and there is no conceivable reason why the US should conduct a Freedom of Navigation Operation there. But, in layman’s language, the US simply decided to taunt Russia by getting McCampbell to pee into the bay, marking territory.