INF Treaty conundrum: on the verge of a new arms race? / News / News agency Inforos
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INF Treaty conundrum: on the verge of a new arms race?

Now we see much greater level of loosening of the international system and its constituent part we held considerably firmly through crises in sixties and seventies.

26.11.2018 14:29 Inderjeet Parmar, professor of international politics, head of the Department of International Politics at City, University of London

INF Treaty conundrum: on the verge of a new arms race?

US President Donald Trump declared Washington’s plans to pull out of the INF Treaty and accused Russia of having violated it. Inforos spoke about implication and consequences of possible withdrawal from the cornerstone Treaty with Inderjeet Parmar, professor of international politics, head of the Department of International Politics at City, University of London

Now we see much greater level of loosening of the international system and its constituent part we held considerably firmly through crises in sixties and seventies. And it may not be easily reversed with a new president regardless of what party he or she may come from. 


It seems President Trump is under intense pressure from within his own party to some extent, but especially from Democratic party and a large part of those alliances on the question of 2016 election.

That is allied to the broad traditional US foreign policy establishment view from 1947 onwards which is that Soviet Union before and more recently Russia is on an adventurist path and it needs to be curbed. They think Crimea and Ukraine and other forms of assertiveness of Russian power need to be restrained.

I think there is a kind of general reconceptualization of American strength and areas of its relative (what they believe) weakness or vulnerability. And that is in regard to many other players in the world, including Russia, but also China and even the EU in certain respect as well. It has broader lines along which these changes are being put forward or suggested.

I think the military industrial complex is very powerful. It has its lobbies and it certainly is encouraged by the Trump administration. There is certainly military technology development component within that.

If you look at the Obama administration there is sort of gradual recoloration, a focus on great powers and rivalry with them, also on Iraq, Afghanistan and Middle East conflict in general. You can clearly see this longer-term development going on. Even George W. Bush during his election campaign and before 9/11 talked about Russia and China as great powers with which the US has to deal.  I think that Trump is not that much of an outliner (of quitting INF Treaty) as many people would suggest.


China has been developing its own ground-launched intermediate and shorter-range missiles and it is not part of the INF Treaty. That discussion has been going on for a few years, probably since the late Bush or Obama administration.

The other thing is that this treaty also did not cover sea-launched intermediate missiles which the US has quite a lot off the coast of China.

There are accusations that various kinds of new weaponry violate the spirit of that old Treaty. One of the things which Russians are complaining about is that the ability of Tomahawk missiles placed in Poland could violate the Treaty. Drone-launched missiles could be violating it, too. So, there are accusations from both sides about the violation.


There exist ideas like “America first”, “America vulnerable to new emerging threats” and so on. I think that one of the underlying themes of Trump’s thinking is that China has become a greater threat. Of cause, he sees Russia as a rival, too. It is openly declared in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. More recently, there is a Congressional report called Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission. With the help of the report the Congress needs to look at the National Defense Strategy as issued in January 2018 and try to see whether the budget that the US has and the current military arrangements that America has allow the US to take on Russia and China. The report mentions Russia and China all over as key threats against which the US needs to be prepared to take action to deter or to wage war.


There is one possible line of development which I think is in that Providing for the Common Defense report. It says that if the old treaties and institutional arrangements which reflected the previous balance of power don’ t apply anymore and given US relative decline in a number of areas and rise of other powers, the US can best reassert its authority and power by breaking loose of those old arrangements and putting itself in asserting its military superiority very openly. It deters any potential challenger even if it includes a new arms race.

And that would require a huge extension of American military spending, which is what that report calls for. It would require steps which are politically very difficult: cutting of Medicaid and other forms of welfare at home to pay for military spending. You’ve got a massive political battle on your hands if you are going to follow through on a new arms race of the type that this document (Providing for the Common Defense report) recommends.

I suspect the desire to break free of certain constraints might be quite strong in the new administration after 2020 which might mean a new arms race.     


The more missiles you site in Europe the more targets you create. It is not as if you can carry out one set of actions and it does not have an equal or opposite. There will be reaction to it. It could be ramping up of the arms race or possibly the full development of the whole range of different missiles. That heightens military tensions and creates a huge massive amount of public anxiety as well as amongst main establishment parties that Europe is now becoming a new potential battleground for short and intermediate-range missiles. And that is a big worry. In addition to that you can see now a much greater level of national assertiveness in the world as a whole. A greater level of nationalism in many countries.


Europe is a construction which has different components and they are not equal. And they certainly don’t think necessarily in the same kinds of ways. You have some which are very keen on retaining a very strong American connection and those are the Eastern and Central European. When Trump first visited Europe, he had a meeting with particular group of Eastern European states about oil and LNG, talking them into buying American LNG.

But I think the anti-war movement in Western Europe might be a major factor in possible stationing missiles in those countries. That could be a big problem. But I suspect that we are quite the way off of a discussion of missiles deployment at the moment because it is not quite clear to me whether Trump can just pull out of the international treaty just because he feels like it.


France which has its own interests as a leader who sees itself as very strong European of Gaullist tradition. French President Emmanuel Macron may think that at some point in future France has got to be prepared for the US not to be as reliable as it has historically been. And therefore, some kind of European army or European military is going to be necessary. Macron also said that if we are going to have European sovereignty then we need to have the principle component of it which is military power. That is the context which has now changed from the 1980-s. In the UK there is a greater level of fear of internal disintegration, a certain degree of looking out for national interest, but at the same time of trying to weld together the core component of Europeanism which is really France and Germany and increasingly unreliable US.


I wonder whether it is an idea to try to use leverage on China with the possibility of conclusion of a new treaty. Trump is very much of transactionalist and I think he will see how he can try to play his cards in order to extract what he believes is maximum value from his relationships. I suspect that there will be some attempt to leverage Russia in regard to China as well. The question of North Korea and China’s role in regard to North Korea is there as well.

Probably, there needs to be some kind of new arrangement: whether it is the extension of the old treaty or a new one, but I suspect something new may come because there are all sorts of new weaponry which did not exist at the time of 1987. But it certainly would require new arrangements.

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