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US-Russia Arms Race Begins One Week After US Withdrawal From INF Treaty

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki. July 16, 2018.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki. July 16, 2018. (Photo via Kremlin.ru)

Only a week after the U.S. announced it would pull out of the INF Treaty the arms race between Russia and the U.S. is already heating up.

Russia announced it is racing to develop two ground-based cruise missile launchers by 2021 following the United State’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a Cold War era anti-nuke treaty first signed in 1987.

After Washington announced its withdrawal from the treaty last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will follow Washington’s move by quitting the deal in six months, raising concern a new arms race will erupt.

Both nuclear powers have accused the other side of breaking the treaty. However, Putin said that Russia only took action to withdraw after the U.S. announced its plan to leave the treaty. Moscow also snubbed U.S. allegations by saying Washington first violated the pact.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin’s close aide, early this week instructed work to begin on building a new missile system, which is expected to be completed by 2021.

“From Feb. 2 the United States suspended its obligations under the INF treaty,” Shoigu briefed defense heads. Shoigu added that despite the U.S. accusing Moscow of breaching the treaty, Washington is actively developing ground missiles with a range of more than 500 km, which is outside the limit set by the treaty.

According to the minister, the U.S. has produced a fake pretext of Russia’s non-compliance with the treaty to justify its exit and create a new long-range missile.

The U.S. ambassador for the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Robert Wood, said Washington would reconsider its withdrawal plan from the nuclear treaty, but only if Russia is entirely in compliance with the pact. “This is Russia’s final opportunity to return to compliance,” Wood stated.

History of the INF Treaty: Once Vital, Now Abandoned

The urgency of a treaty to contain the arms race became evident in the mid-1970s when, in 1977, Moscow launched a new missile to be distributed in Eastern Europe, called the intermediate-range Sabre SS-20. The news shocked Western Europe since there was no agreement regulating the presence of the missiles.

The U.S. retaliated in 1983 when its new missile, the Pershing II, was deployed in West Germany (at the time Germany was divided into two countries, West and East) while several other cruise missiles were in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and the U.K.

After several faltered negotiations, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, known as one of the most vocal advocates of global nuclear weapons disarmament, agreed to sign the INF with then U.S. president Ronald Reagan in 1987.

The agreement banned the deployment of ground-based missiles with a range between 310 miles and 3,410 miles., which both parties to the agreement had. Consequently, Moscow and Washington destroyed a total of 2,692 short, medium, and intermediate-range missiles within the deadline of the treaty’s implementation by June 1, 1991.

With their American escorts watching, Soviet inspectors record data from the side of a Pershing II missile prior to its destruction. Several missiles are to be destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

With their American escorts watching, Soviet inspectors record data from the side of a Pershing II missile prior to its destruction. Several missiles are to be destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. 1989. (Photo via US military)

Will Washington’s and Moscow’s Withdrawal from the INF Treaty Renew the Arms Race?

The withdrawal of the U.S. and Russia from the treaty which has protected Europe from a Washington-Moscow arms race has triggered worry that the world will enter a new version of the Cold War.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has sought to quell such fears by stating that Russia is not trying to launch a new arms race, but rather that its withdrawal from the INF was a response to Washington’s pullout from the deal.

“We don’t seek to launch a new arms race; the president has made it quite clear. We will definitely give military and technical responses to the threats that are emerging following the U.S. pullout from the INF Treaty and its plans to create low-yield nuclear weapons, which, according to all experts in the West, Russia and other countries will dramatically lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and increase the risk of a nuclear conflict,” Lavrov said.

Jeffrey Pryce from John Hopkins University said the INF benefits Washington since the agreement does not address missiles launched from the sea and the air. “Thus, the INF Treaty deprives Russia of a significant military capability, for which its size and location are strategic advantages,” the former Pentagon official stated on Twitter.

According to figures from an anti-nuclear group, Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.S. nuclear arsenal still has 4,600 nuclear weapons, with 1,740 of them deployed and ready to be launched at any time, and 2,922 in storage. Ten U.S. Navy submarines equipped with nuclear missiles are still patrolling the seas, the group stated.

Russia has a similar number of nuclear warheads, but its naval vessels are in bad condition due to several accidents in the past few years.

Hope For A Deal to Replace the INF Treaty

In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said he is ready to consider the possible signing of a new treaty to replace the abandoned INF, which could include more countries. Lavrov’s Deputy Sergey Rybakov said the Kremlin welcomes Trump’s new ideas and hopes the proposal is concrete.

“We look forward to this proposal being made concrete and put on paper or by other means,” said Rybakov. He added that the U.S. hadn’t suggested any new terms so far. Previously, Lavrov said the Kremlin has proposed some initiatives regarding the new nuclear deal, but Washington has yet to respond to Russia’s proposal.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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