The world doesn’t need another arms race
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the state of the troubled Russia-United States’ relations today has set alarm bells ringing as it hints at the possibility of yet another cold war between the two and is reminiscent of a time when the arms race was at its peak.
Recently, US President Donald Trump announced plans to quit the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INFT), the abandoning of which could be a harbinger of the resumption of a nuclear arms race in Europe and one that is simultaneously spreading globally. Indeed, this would be an irritant for the Europeans, devastating for Russia’s economy and tolerable for the Trump administration.
Clauses agreed upon in the treaty required the two countries to destroy their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles -- with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,415 miles), their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment -- within three years of the deal being implemented. In compliance with the INF Treaty, both sides destroyed 2,692 missiles which were deployed in Europe. Therefore, European leaders support the continuation of the treaty, with Federica Mogherini, spokeswoman for the EU foreign policy chief, saying that the INF deal “contributed to the end of the cold war and constitutes a pillar of European security architecture since it entered into force 30 years ago”.
The Americans believed that the Russians had violated the treaty by developing two battalions of the SSC-8 cruise missile. In December 2016, the Kremlin moved one battalion from the SSC-8 missile from its test site to an operational base, while the second remained at the Kapustin Yar site, in southern Russia, near Volgograd. Therefore, the development and deployment of an intermediate-range cruise missile was a serious concern for the Americans because they considered its operationalization as a violation of the INF Treaty.
The pronouncement to scrap the INF Treaty has puzzled both the Russians and the Europeans, with Moscow saying that it was neither primed to scrap the treaty nor provoked by the steps that Washington was taking against it. “Of course there are weak points (in the treaty), but tearing up the agreement without plans for anything new is what we don’t welcome,” Mogherini said.
Indeed, the termination of the INF Treaty will drag Nato members into an arms race with Russia as they would be forced to finance the manufacturing of short-range and intermediate ballistic missiles, which would be deployed in Europe after the termination of the deal.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems interested in avoiding a devastating arms race with Nato because his economy cannot bear the brunt of such a decision. During the last Nato summit which took place in Brussels, members agreed to strengthen Nato’s defense and deterrence, step up its role in the fight against terrorism, and share the burden of security in a more fair manner.
Nato’s communiqué this year committed that the alliance would be a stronger deterrent against Russia, calling on nations to devote at least 20 per cent of their growing military budgets to equipment and modernization. Indeed, the termination of the INF Treaty will drag Nato members into an arms race with Russia as they would be forced to finance the manufacturing of short-range and intermediate ballistic missiles, which would be deployed in Europe after the termination of the deal. It seems a smart move by President Trump to bleed the Russian economy by employing an arms race tactic.
The trends indicate that the Europeans are not willing to host ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles on their soil after the treaty is no longer functional, with a European Union spokesperson asking both sides to continue with their constructive dialogue and preserve the INF Treaty because “the world doesn’t need a new arms race.”
The French foreign ministry said in a statement that France attributes “great importance to conventional and nuclear arms control instruments … We call on all the parties to avoid any hasty unilateral decisions, which would be regrettable”.
Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Centre think-tank opined: “Thirty-five years ago, the United Kingdom, West Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium agreed to deploy 572 nuclear-armed US ‘Euro-missiles’. None of them appear willing to accept them now.”
President Putin has realized the gravity of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa), which entered into force on August 2, 2017. The Caatsa sanctioned persons engaged in business transactions with the Russian defense sector. On September 20 this year, the US imposed Caatsa sanctions on a Chinese entity, the Equipment Development Department of China’s Central Military Commission and on its director because they purchased Su-35 aircraft and the S-400 system from Russia. India is expected to face similar sanctions due to the recent Indo-Russia S-400 surface to air missile deal worth $5.43 billion.
The sanctions can have devastating consequences for the Russian military-industrial complex. Therefore, President Putin is looking for an alternative to an arms race. On October 23, President Putin told John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor that “on the coat of the arms of the United States there’s an eagle holding 13 arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. My question is whether your eagle has gobbled up all the olives leaving only the arrows?”
To summarize, the renewal of an arms race between Moscow and Washington could have a domino effect on the strategic global and regional environment. It compels Beijing to invest more in its military sector, which justifies as well as accelerates New Delhi’s purchase of military hardware, while also pushing Pakistan to advance its conventional and nuclear weapons in order to maintain a credible deterrent force and check Indian aggression.
— Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University.