US Talk of Exit From Nuclear Treaty With Russia Could Blow Up in New Arms Race

© Photo : Edward L. CooperThe Soviets deployed hundreds of mobile, SS-20 intermediate force missile launchers in the 1980s--with three nuclear warheads on each missile and reloads for each launcher
The Soviets deployed hundreds of mobile, SS-20 intermediate force missile launchers in the 1980s--with three nuclear warheads on each missile and reloads for each launcher - Sputnik International
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Last week, US media reported that the Trump administration was considering withdrawing from the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, citing alleged non-compliance by Moscow. White House officials have denied that the US is considering withdrawing. Russian experts explain why doing so would be a major lose-lose scenario for both powers.

Last week, Politico reported that leading Republican congressmen were urging the Trump administration to withdraw from the INF Treaty, a document signed by Moscow and Washington in 1987 which prohibits the development, deployment and testing of ground-launched nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles which have a range of between 500-5,500 km. 

The Senators claimed that Russia was in "material breach of the treaty," something Moscow has vehemently denied. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly said that Russia is in full compliance with the treaty, adding that Moscow has its own concerns about US compliance. Moscow has also called on Washington to engage in discussions on the points of contention regarding the arms control agreement's implementation.

Although Trump administration special assistant on counterproliferation Christopher Ford has since clarified to Sputnik that the White House does not want to withdraw from the INF Treaty, continued murmurings about Washington's possible unilateral disengagement have sparked fears of a new nuclear arms race. The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that it could not rule out a unilateral US withdrawal, while experts have warned that such a step would lead to heightened military tensions in Europe.

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The mutual recriminations between the Russia and the US on alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty are nothing new. Last week, a group of Democrats in the House Arms Services Committee cosponsored a version of the annual defense authorization bill with provisions to 'deter' Russia militarily. The bill makes specific mention of Moscow's alleged violation of the INF Treaty, and proposes the deployment of high-precision weapons in Europe to strengthen Russia's 'containment'.

Christopher Ford, special assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counterproliferation, assured Sputnik that the US does not want to withdraw from the agreement. However, he also stuck to the long-standing US claim that Moscow must return to compliance of the treaty, since "there is no reason to have treaties in the first place" if parties "can go ahead and do whatever they want."

© Wikipedia / George Chernilevsky The RT-21M Pioneer missile and launcher on display in Kiev. The missiles were destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The RT-21M Pioneer missile and launcher on display in Kiev. The missiles were destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. - Sputnik International
The RT-21M Pioneer missile and launcher on display in Kiev. The missiles were destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

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The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, has indicated that it is concerned about unfounded accusations being used as a pretext for formulating policy vis-à-vis Moscow.

Speaking to Sputnik, Foreign Ministry Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control deputy director Vladimir Leontiev warned that at this point, Moscow cannot rule out a unilateral US withdrawal from the INF Treaty.

"The probability can be calculated in relation to rational actions. But when it comes to dealing with hysteria heavily mixed with anti-Russian paranoia, then behavior becomes unpredictable. So, of course, nothing can be ruled out," Leontiev said.

The official added that Moscow would see a US withdrawal from the treaty as a tremendous mistake, one which would result in a dramatic increase in military tensions in Europe, and put into jeopardy a whole range of agreements over missiles and nuclear weapons.

© AP Photo / Bob DaughertyDec. 8, 1987, file photo, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the two leaders signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
Dec. 8, 1987, file photo, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the two leaders signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty - Sputnik International
Dec. 8, 1987, file photo, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the two leaders signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Leontiev also said that a unilateral US withdrawal from the IMF Treaty would constitute a demonstration of Washington's lack of due consideration for Russia's security interests, something which "naturally causes certain reciprocal steps. This means that the risk of conflict, even if unintended, increases." 

The diplomat stressed that the Moscow and Washington already faced a similar period of tensions in the early 1980s with the so-called Euromissiles Crisis, when the US deployed its nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles in Western Europe. "We have already lived through a similar scenario," Leontiev said. "And it seems now that there are forces which would like to follow on this path once again. This would be an extremely dangerous undertaking," he added.

Ultimately, the diplomat noted that he hopes that common sense will prevail, and the current batch of US politicians would not repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. If the US did withdraw, Russia would take account of this emergent threat in its military planning, which could in turn trigger a new arms race, he said.

© Photo : KiWi1983 peace demonstration in Den Haag, the Netherlands
1983 peace demonstration in Den Haag, the Netherlands - Sputnik International
1983 peace demonstration in Den Haag, the Netherlands

Speaking to RIA Novosti, Ivan Timofeev, the director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council, a diplomatic think tank, stressed that the collapse of the INF Treaty would not be beneficial for either Moscow or Washington.

"An exit from the INF Treaty would not solve any problems, and would not increase security. Such a decision would only increase the burden on military budgets, and reduce security, because it would lead to an increase in the risks of local or full-scale nuclear conflict in Europe," the analyst said.

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Furthermore, Timofeev emphasized that whatever disagreements the two countries have regarding the treaty's implementation, they can be resolved in the framework provided for by the agreement itself.

In his interview with Sputnik, Trump special assistant Ford said that the White House is looking to engage in dialogue with Russia on the issue, even if there are no guarantees of success. "We are hoping to soon engage in a dialogue on strategic stability. There has been an agreement to move ahead with that at some point…and with a bit of luck that kind of engagement with each other will help us understand better where the sides are coming from, and what the needs and desires and the problems are."

Leontiev stressed that Russia would welcome such discussions. "We would welcome such a conversation, because the need for it is clearly evident. But of course, I cannot say yet what will happen in practice," the diplomat noted.

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