On 20th October in Nevada at a rally, President Donald Trump announced that the US will pull out of the landmark Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a bilateral agreement with Russia inked in 1987. He stated that “Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years. So we are going to terminate the agreement. We are going to pull out.” President Trump’s decision has evoked a sense of bitterness across Europeans nations. This unilateral decision of the U.S. to pull out of agreement will trigger a nuclear arms race and will affect Europe as it will turn into a battleground.
On December 8, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed a historic treaty came to be known as Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in Washington. The Treaty has its origin in the Euro missile crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Soviet Union deployment of the SS-20, an advanced and accurate missile that could strike almost all part of Europe from deep within Russia, alarmed Europe. America deployed Pershing II ballistic missile and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) as a retaliatory measure against Russian aggression.
An anti-nuclear protest erupted across Europe as the new missile rolled in. Finally, this led to the signing of the INF treaty. Under the INF treaty, the US and the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate within three years all ground-based missile systems of 500-5,500 km range and not to develop, produce, possess or deploy these in future. The US destroyed 846 Pershing IIs and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) and the USSR, 1846 missiles (SS-4s, SS-5s and SS-20s), along with its support facilities.
Since 2008, both the countries have been accusing each other of violating the treaty, the US has revealed that Russia has deployed Novator 9M729, the land-based cruise missile with a range that falls between 500km and 5500 km, and is therefore illegal under the terms of the INF treaty. Russia too has criticised America over the deployment of missile defence interceptors in Poland and Romania as they can be reconfigured to launch Tomahawk missiles, which is also a violation of the treaty.
According to 2018 Nuclear Policy Review report released by United States Department of Defence, Russia and China are pursuing asymmetric ways and means to counter U.S conventional capabilities, which thereby increases the risk of miscalculation and the potential for military confrontation with the United States, its allies, and partners. China for the first time has been identified as a potential threat to the U.S policies in the Indo-Pacific region. Nuclear policy review report clearly states that China has developed a new road-mobile strategic intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a new multi-warhead version of its DF-5 silo-based ICBM, and its most advanced ballistic missile submarine armed with the new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). In order to match the challenges posed by Russia and China, U.S wants to expand and diversify its nuclear arsenal; $1.2 trillion will be spent on new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles and low-yield warheads.
Trump’s decision to pull U.S out of INF treaty will not have a direct impact on the world, however, it will start a nuclear race around the world and strain the relationship between the U.S and Europe. The INF treaty is not the first one, in the year 2001 US had also withdrawn from the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with U.S.S.R. which was signed in 1972.
According to The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) annual data, China has started a long-term modernisation programme focused on making qualitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles and developing their missile delivery capabilities. Even though today’s world is a multi-polar one, but U.S and Russia are still the two biggest nuclear powers and any change in status quo will start a ripple effect across the world.
The fear of mass destruction has prevented the mass scale production of nuclear weapons. A multi-nation nuclear treaty is the need of the hour, but it needs to be realistic in nature and less in rhetoric.