In October, President Trump announced he plans to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, carving out a path to a 21st century US-Russian Cold War. The move demonstrates once again that ignorance compounded with the need for domination makes for an extremely dangerous nuclear cocktail of renewed arms racing that endangers human survival.
While the Russian military may indeed be in technical violation of the Treaty by testing a new medium-range cruise missile, less well known is the fact that a joint commission is currently exploring whether the US has also violated the Treaty with its own deployment of a missile defense system in Romania. Of course, the answer to Russia’s cruise-missile testing should not have been to rip up the famous treaty that ended the Cold War. Rather, it should have prompted intensifying nuclear disarmament diplomacy.
Former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev had it right when he remarked that Trump’s announcement was not the work “of a great mind.” As Gorbachev wrote in The New York Times, “With enough political will, any problems of compliance with the existing treaties could be resolved” and, “There will be no winner in a ‘war of all against all’ – particularly if it ends in a nuclear war.” One need not love Russian President Vladimir Putin to acknowledge the importance of Russia’s Foreign Ministry saying, “There is still room for dialogue.”
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The INF Treaty came into force in 1987, bringing the Cold War to an end even before the Berlin Wall was breached and the Soviet empire collapsed. The Treaty requires elimination and permanent renunciation of future deployment of all US and Russian nuclear and conventional ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,500 miles. It greatly reduced (but did not eliminate) the danger of Europe becoming the initial theater and victim of a US-Soviet (now Russian) apocalyptic nuclear war.
Abandoning the Treaty — combined with the possible expiration of the New START Treaty if it is not soon extended — will eliminate all nuclear arms agreements between the world’s two largest and most dangerous nuclear powers, paving the way for an unrestrained and mind-bogglingly costly nuclear arms race.
The danger posed by nuclear weapons and the arms race are not abstractions. Both great powers already use their nuclear arsenals dangerously to reinforce or expand their imperial spheres of influence. For example, the US threatened possible nuclear attacks on the eves of the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars, with former President Obama’s “all options on the table” threats against Iran and President Trump’s “fire and fury” threat against North Korea. Further, Putin stated that he considered the use of nuclear weapons to ensure Russian control of Crimea. Trump’s nuclear arms racing only adds to the dangers of nuclear war as a result of miscalculations and accidents.
The decision to abandon the Treaty is part-and-parcel of Trump’s unilateralist “America First” vision of US global dominance. Beyond ostensible concerns about possible Russian cruise-missile testing, Trump and company have complained that the INF Treaty restricts the Pentagon’s ability to offset China’s military modernization. Thus, withdrawal from the Treaty needs to be seen along with the Navy’s provocative South China Sea “freedom of navigation exercises” and the disastrous trade war as another element of Trump’s nationally self-defeating campaign to weaken and contain China – not to mention Trump’s and National Security Adviser John Bolton’s disregard for treaties and international cooperation.
While withdrawal from the INF Treaty is a dangerous escalation on its own terms, it comes in the context of more than two decades of increasingly aggressive US military policies in relation to Russia: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) expansion to Russia’s borders, which was initiated during the Clinton administration; withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by the Bush II-Cheney administration; the Obama administration’s commitment to spend $1.2 trillion (expanded to $1.7 trillion under Trump) to develop a new generation of US nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, deployment of missile defenses which Moscow fears could be converted into nuclear-armed first strike missiles; and the decision to deploy upgraded and “more usable” US nuclear weapons to five European NATO nations.
Committed to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, President Putin reiterated Russia’s commitment to maintain the balance of forces with the United States. Russian nuclear-capable missiles have now been deployed to Kaliningrad in the heart of Central Europe. Further, in order to evade or overwhelm US missile defenses, Russia is deploying a new long-range multiple warhead missile, hypersonic cruise and other missiles capable of flying up to five times the speed of sound, and has pledged to deploy a nuclear-powered “unmanned underwater vehicle” capable of destroying port cities with nuclear weapons.
We risk losing everything if we fail to add nuclear disarmament and peace to our list of progressive, life-affirming and democratic demands as we confront the Trump administration. Our list of demands should include preservation and reinforcement of the INF Treaty, opposition to what has become the $1.7 trillion US nuclear weapons upgrade, support for the Markey-Lieu legislation that would prevent presidential first-use of nuclear weapons, and renewed commitments to fulfilling the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty’s obligation to “good faith” negotiations by the nuclear powers for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. The last thing the world needs is a new Cold War that threatens human survival.