The US administration has been repeatedly tearing up important international agreements. Now it’s the turn of INF Treaty and New START Treaty. How this will influence international strategic stability? Inforos spoke about it with Dr. Peter Kuznick, professor of history and director of the award-winning Nuclear Studies Institute at American University
Inforos: What stands behind the US policy of quitting international treaties?
Dr. Peter Kuznick: To actually understand this, it we’ve got to look at the context of the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002. The US quit the ABM Treaty because it wanted to put its missile defense system in place. That was very destabilizing.
In his March 1 State of the Nation Address, which announced that Russia was developing five new nuclear weapons capable of avoiding the US missile defense, Vladimir Putin emphasized the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Now we understand that Russia has deployed its own Novator 9m729 missile system to counter the US missile defense that had been putting in Poland and Romania.
But the other context for understanding this is that Trump has been tearing up treaty after treaty and agreement after agreement - this is part of Donald Trump’s view of the world. He pulled the US out of Paris climate accords, he repudiated the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, he says that he plans to pull the US out of the New START Treaty or not to renew the Treaty when it expires in 2021 and then INF Treaty is just another piece of that. He sees that as a constraint upon America’s freedom of movement.
In this regard he also stresses Russia’s violations but he also stresses the fact that China is not in the Treaty. According to the estimates I’ve seen ninety percent of China’s missiles would be banned by the INF Treaty. It’s not a serious threat to the US, but Trump sees it just like the trade deals which are hurting American interests.
Inforos: Some experts suggest the US needs new weapons to maintain its military superiority, but the INF Treaty prevents the US from dominating in the military sector. Do you agree with them?
Dr. Peter Kuznick: Not really, I don’t think the US needs this to increase its capabilities. I think that the US has as much security militarily as it needs. Donald Trump’s views on nuclear weapons are pretty dangerous and reckless. During the campaign he said that what is the point of having nuclear weapons if we can’t use them?
Under Obama the US began this 30 years- trillion-dollar modernization which is now looks like 1.7 trillion-dollar modernization, that Trump has double-downed on. The point of that was to make nuclear weapons not only more efficient but also more usable.
We see that also in Nuclear Posture Review from earlier this year. The February issue is talking about new categories of smaller tactical nuclear weapons that would be more usable in potential conflicts. And the US is going to develop a new class of intermediate-range nuclear missiles. I am sure that American defense manufacturers are thrilled with this, but they already got a vastly increased military budget. But they seem to be insatiable in their appetites.
Back in 1980-s the New START treaty put serious limits on nuclear weapons, launchers, delivery systems. Now we reached the point where the world had about seventy thousand nuclear weapons with the equivalent of 1.6 million Hiroshima bombs.
Inforos: French President Emmanuel Macron said the United States’ decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty poses a threat to Europe’s security. What do you make of his stance on that?
Dr. Peter Kuznick: President Macron knows a little bit of history unlike Donald Trump. I think Macron remembers what it was like in 1980-s in Europe when you had the US deploying the Pershings and the cruise missiles. You had the soviet SS-20-s and there was only somewhere between a 6-minute and 10-minute response time if there was a report of missiles being launched.
That is much too dangerous. But that is what we can get back to. But now with new technologies we can have even shorter response time. That is a very unstable world. And Macron, and many Europeans understand this and they are not going to allow the situation they faced in 1980-s, allow the US to deploy missiles.
There are some extreme right-wing fascistic forces on the events in Europe now. But if Europe maintains a degree of rationality and repudiate these extreme right-wing forces the EU will never consider placing these intermediate-range nuclear missiles on its soil.
Who else is going to allow the US even to deploy its intermediate nuclear missiles? Japan? Japanese people are very anti-nuclear still. I can’t imagine that happening.
We also concern about China. It has got 270 nuclear weapons now. China is modernizing its military and by 2020 it will be spending more on this military than all of Western Europe combined. Still, it is only a fraction of what the US is spending, but it is a significant amount. And the US points to these Chinese weapons.
Inforos: What does the world need to prevent further escalation of tensions and escape possible disaster?
Dr. Peter Kuznick: This planet has become a lot more dangerous. Latest studies show that what we knew about nuclear winter was underestimation of the danger of the problem. That the threshold for a nuclear winter is lower than we realized back in 1980-s.
According to these studies even a limited war between Pakistan and India with one hundred Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons being used could create partial nuclear winter, drive the temperature across the globe to freezing, destroy much of the agriculture and lead to up to two billion deaths. That is a very limited nuclear war. But we still have 14500 weapons between 7 and 80 times as powerful as the Hiroshima weapons.
The danger of large-scale disaster really looms. That nightmare scenario is what we are going back to. I see this as very alarming and hope is that before we actually go down this path the Trump administration will come to an end on way or another.
Look at the tensions between our two countries right now in Syria, Ukraine, in the Baltics, look at the tensions between the US and China, “freedom of navigation” operations the US is running in the South China sea, starting all this Chinese resistance to that.
This is a desperate time in terms that we need a real statesmanship. And we don’t need the US pulling out of all these international agreements, starting trade wars. We need the US and Russia to be talking rather than the US pulling out of INF Treaty.
We also need is a serious discussion between Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping and other world leaders to hammer out some of these problems that we have in common. The nuclear issue is on top of my list. That is what we really need to do.
Inforos: What do you expect from possible Putin-Trump talks in the near future?
Dr. Peter Kuznick: Trump is increasingly isolated in terms of his views about wanting better relations with Russia. But relations are going to worsen, because everybody surrounding Trump has a much more hostile view of Russia than Trump himself has. What might seem like short term victory for Putin ends up backfiring in the long run.
The State Department which had guided the US nuclear negotiation strategy has to a large extent lost the initiative and now it is the Boltons and the Morrisons and more aggressive nuclear hawks who have great influence in the Trump administration. There are very encouraging signs in this last election. I warned repeatedly that to allow somebody so irresponsible, so reckless, so impulsive and so ignorant to have access to the nuclear codes – was insanity. That will hopefully end in two years.