Sputnik: Why do public organisations, NGOs and environmentalists concentrate on discussing climate change and nuclear power plants, but at the same time ignore the issue of the US departure from the INF Treaty? Why is there so little emphasis on this issue?
Oliver Steward: I think we have to start from the top and look at why climate change, and in particular why NGOs and international organisations place climate change at the heart of the agenda; and it’s because they believe that climate change will affect all states regardless of whether they have say nuclear weapons or not. So by focusing on climate change they're dealing with global problems and effecting global solutions to those problems. And we have seen in recent years, for example, the United Nations and the Paris Climate Change Treaty enshrine these into certain legislation, international binding agreements. What we have seen of late, however, is a growing number of sceptics including Donald Trump, who is challenging the arguments against somehow limiting carbon emissions, either challenging its evidence or say that it actually harms economic growth. So from Donald Trump's view, climate change is important, but it’s not the most important issue.
Now you talk to me about nuclear weapons, in my opinion, nuclear weapons is a very prominent issue in international relations, actually probably more so now than ever. If we’re looking at the Iran crisis, if we're looking at the development of nuclear weapons more generally, nuclear proliferation is happening here and now. And when we’re looking at nuclear weapon treaties, actually a lot of these treaties are legacies of the Cold War. This is a legacy of a time when international relations was more structured. It was a bipolar Cold War system between the Soviet Union and the United States, they both had the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but we’re in a different age now. We're in a different age of a grey multipolar world, number one, and these old treaties don’t reflect the new realities of international relations more generally.
Sputnik: Why do various activists try to focus the public’s opinion on issues like climate change rather than this important issue like the INF Treaty and abandoning other important treaties?
Oliver Steward: It’s actually to do with stakeholders. If we're looking at it in terms of interest people have, they have to get certain gains from this, and I believe in terms of climate change if we're looking at climate change various groups have what we call a stakeholder in this issue. So, for example, the very legitimacy of these NGOs are premised upon dealing with climate change, that's a raison d’etre as their very essence of being in existence. If you take climate change away as an issue then their legitimacy is very much in doubt, and the actual existence of the organisation is very much in doubt. In politics, if you’re looking at interests and agendas it made suit a particular organisation's existence to pursue a particular agenda. And I believe that, actually, this is partly why it explains why climate change is seen to some as more important than, say, nuclear weapons; because from a nuclear weapons standpoint you cannot effectively galvanize the support of international organisations the same way as you could climate change.
Sputnik: And why’s that?
Oliver Steward: Okay, first of all, climate change is happening, whether we agree or not that humans actually are factoring into this. You’re able to relate to it more, people can see it, and it is quite an emotive subject, it’s very emotive. We have what’s going on right now in the West and in particular people protesting on the streets and climate change activists. Climate change activists have a particular say now in the future generations of this world. So when we look at it in terms of NGOs they want to get on board with that, they want to appeal to groups of people, but let’s not forget the other factor here, which is also the media, and the media’s role in putting forward the potential effects of climate change.
Sputnik: How could such international organisations and NGOs maintain the existence and fulfilment of international treaties and conditions of these treaties?
Oliver Steward: Well, first of all, it has to be binding. You actually have to get nation states to agree to these international treaties as a start off. So if you’re looking at the Paris Climate Change Treaty, when you looked at Barack Obama it was affecting the fact that you had the leader of the so-called, free world signing up to this agreement, however, Donald Trump didn’t give it the credibility he believed it deserved. So one of the things you have to do is ensure it binds states both currently and also future behaviour because with climate change it’s not just doing things in the present, but it’s also setting the course of future direction. The problem with this is, that nation-states may not necessarily agree with the arguments put forward. So as an international organisation, you have to make it within everyone’s interest in order to fulfil these climate change targets and agreements.
Sputnik: The US annual defence budget amounted to $649 billion in 2018, exceeding the total budget of China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom combined. However, Washington repeatedly accuses Russia of violating the INF Treaty, without any evidence. What exactly is the US trying to achieve with such rhetoric and activity?
Oliver Steward: What the United States is asserting is that Russia is not complying with the INF Treaty. When the INF Treaty was signed, it was during the stages of Cold War in which it was a mutual understanding that both the United States and Soviet Union, that became Russia, had to agree to limit their stockpiles and nuclear weapons, and to also get rid of a certain class of battlefield nuclear weapons; because increasing nuclear weapons only makes conflict more likely.
However, what we’ve seen in recent years, is an attempt by the United States to put Russia into a light to say that Russia is not complying with this treaty, and Russia is developing new missile systems, such as hypersonic missiles; that Russia is not binding to the agreement, to the INF Treaty, and the fact Russia has gone against the treaty and developed its own systems and capabilities. However, it’s arguably the case that nation states will look at their weapons systems and update them accordingly because each state wants to have, what we call, a credible nuclear deterrent. And sometimes what that means is you have to be able to match potential adversaries’ capabilities. Now what the United States has done is tried to be the dominant actor, it has tried to surpass, they don’t believe in, say, a credible nuclear deterrence, they want to have a system that’s more advanced than Russia’s and other states. They want to be, what we call, on the offensive, they want to have an offensive capability, and, actually, all states would pursue that. Russia does as well to a certain extent with its hypersonic missile development. With casting the other in the light of saying: “Well, Russia does not comply with the INF Treaty”, it gives greater legitimacy for the United States to pursue a new generation of nuclear weapon development.
Sputnik: Some experts are of the opinion that the nuclear threat will return to Europe if the INF Treaty is abandoned. How likely is this?
Oliver Steward: I think it’s very likely. You actually have to look at history for example. I would use one historical case study to highlight the points of what happens when you have intermediate battlefield nuclear weapons. If you look at the Able Archer exercise of 1983, which was a NATO military exercise that simulated a possible NATO first strike against the Soviet Union with Pershing II missiles. The Soviet Union was, actually, reading this exercise, which was actually a war game, as a potential prelude to a credible first strike against the Soviet Union. At the time Soviet Premier was so concerned that this was actually a real-time war exercise that could be a preemptive strike. The similar thing could happen again if you bring in a new generation of nuclear weapon systems. If you’re looking at the rhetoric coming from the Trump administration: peace through strength, rearmament, as we’ve seen massive increases in development budgets for new nuclear weapon systems, and military spending is over $600 billion a year, you can see the structural antecedents to a potential flashpoint. And the concern is actually to do with nuclear proliferation itself. Europe is very concerned because European security is very much under the blanket of what I would call a US nuclear shield. So the United States provides Europe with a nuclear shield against potential adversaries one of which is Russia. Now if there’s any attempt to upset this equilibrium, if we look at hypersonic missiles, say from Russia, then the US would develop countermeasures against this, and it would make a potential flashpoint more likely. And we may see, say, a new version of an Able Archer scenario take place in the 2020s onwards, where a military exercise may be misread, and things could escalate accordingly.
Sputnik: How will the elimination of the INF impact treaties like New START or the Non-Proliferation Treaty?
Oliver Steward: I think two things are going to happen. If you’re looking at the treaties that you mentioned, all of these treaties are based on placing an upper limit to certain types of nuclear weapons, or not allowing certain types of nuclear weapon systems to exist, this is to stop a so-called, arms race from occurring. Now, if we start to see treaty nation states such as Russia and the United States coming out of all the treaty, you will see a potential new arms race. Now, this would be very costly. America believes it can win this arms race because America believes it has the technological, economic and military superiority to do this. It believes that Russia will not engage upon this arms race. But you will start to see an increase in the number of nuclear weapons systems being employed both on a battlefield and actually being held by Russia and by the United States in question. So what you will see an arms build-up occurring.
Sputnik: How likely is it that before August 2, the expiration of the six-month period prescribed by the contract after the American notification of the beginning of its withdrawal, that any steps will be taken to save the INF Treaty?
Oliver Steward: In my opinion, I think it’s unlikely we will see any steps to save it. I believe that both Russia and the United States have reconciled themselves to the fact that the INF Treaty is not fit for purpose. I believe actually it’s an agreement on a disagreement with the INF Treaty and the agreement is that it’s not working for either country. It’s not working for Donald Trump. He wants to invest in new generation nuclear weapons systems; it’s not working for Putin who wants to invest in hypersonic missile systems. I don’t think it’s very likely at all.
I also find it interesting, and this is what I predict could happen as well, is the development of new ABM systems in conjunction with new missile system. Say, for example, what the United States has already discussed is space force. Donald Trump is very interested in the idea of a space force. Ronald Reagan in the early 80s was talking about Star Wars, SDI - Strategic Defence Initiative. I don’t think there’s any coincidence, and I’m only surmising here that what we may start to see more rhetoric concerning is a development of anti-ballistic missile systems, potentially the use of satellites and even potentially space-based systems. But there’s something we haven’t discussed actually, come to my mind, something that's very relevant. It’s actually the role of China because America is perceiving a new form of a Cold War not just with its potential adversary Russia, which impacts on European security landscape, but also China’s growing military and economic power. And one thing I didn’t mention before, but I’ll mention in relation to nuclear weapons, is America wants superiority in nuclear weapon systems in relation to all adversaries, not just Russia, but China as well. And I very much think that in Trump's strategic calculus, they are viewing a potential conflict with China as very much a determining role in it coming out of the INF Treaty; because it needs to develop new weapons systems for the future.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.