Trump signals a new N-arms race

The world is on the brink of another nuclear arms race with US President Donald Trump threatening to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and build up its nuclear arsenal. He has blamed Russia for his decision, alleging that it has violated the Treaty. Signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev during the Cold War, under the INF Treaty, the two superpowers agreed not to deploy medium-range missiles and helped reduce the Soviet threat to European members of NATO. It was a landmark treaty, which played a major role in easing tensions in Europe. It is now in serious jeopardy. The US alleges that the Russians have developed a new medium-range missile, the Novator 9M729, which they can deploy at short notice to strike Europe. This allegation isn’t new. There were reports in 2008 that the Russians were testing ground-based cruise missiles. Indeed, in 2014, President Barack Obama reportedly wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin accusing Russia of violating the INF treaty. Even if Russia is developing missiles in violation of the INF Treaty, Trump’s response is excessive. Instead of calling for talks with Russia to discuss the matter, he is threatening to tear up a treaty that has provided American-Russian arms control efforts with a strong foundation. Demolishing the INF Treaty will be easy, but putting it back, once a renewed nuclear arms race begins, will be almost impossible.

If Trump follows up on his threat, it will not be the first time the US is withdrawing from a nuclear arms treaty. In 2001-02, President George Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, citing the need to defend the US against nuclear blackmail by ‘rogue states’. The US’ withdrawal from nuclear treaties weakens its credibility as a treaty partner and encourages others to build up their weapons programmes.

Trump has attributed his decision to build up the US’ nuclear arsenal to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty. However, it is a rising China that underlies Trump’s controversial move. The INF Treaty is a bilateral one between the US and the Soviet Union and subsequently its successor state, Russia. China is not party to it and is therefore free to develop its nuclear weapons, unhampered by the INF Treaty. Hence the US is trying to free itself from restrictions that do not apply to China. Even this does not justify US’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Indeed, the current situation presents the US with an opportunity to strengthen nuclear arms control by expanding its scope beyond the US and Russia to include China. That’s what Trump must do, rather than take the world back to an error of superpower nuclear terror. 

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Trump signals a new N-arms race

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