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Rising Concern In Russia About Spiraling Arms Race – OpEd

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 Russia is convinced that proliferation risks and threats that are rampant today can be eliminated by the strict observance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while respecting and ensuring the balance between its three components: nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The NPT will be reviewed in May 2020 at an international conference at the UN Headquarters  in New York. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov considers it crucial that the upcoming conference is held “as non-confrontationally as possible and not repeat the sad experience of the 2015 conference, when in fact, the participants refused to talk to each other and even to listen to each other, and each stated their position independently of what the others were saying”.

This was the reason for a rather dangerous and at the same time illusory trend to prevail, namely to “force” the nuclear powers to abandon their existing nuclear arsenals without taking into account their security interests and strategic realities. This approach led to an accelerated drafting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which was open for signing.

“Russia does not plan to accede to this treaty,” Lavrov said. “We share the goal of building a nuclear-free world. However, this goal should not be achieved by the unilateral, rather arrogant methods on which this document is based. We presume that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is possible only in the context of general and complete disarmament where equal and indivisible security is ensured for all, including nations with nuclear weapons, in accordance with the NPT,” he added.

Professor Aslan Abashidze, Head of the Department of International Law of the Russian University of Peoples’ Friendship and Member of the Scientific Advisory Board under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IDN that the U.S. has been walking out of several treaties with Russia and its western partners signed over the years after tough negotiations.

“Of the remaining existing international strategic treaties, the key one is the Treaty on Open Skies, which … creates trusting relations primarily between nuclear powers. Unfortunately, the White House has repeatedly voiced its intention to unilaterally withdraw from this agreement,” he said.

At the same time, the fate of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty III (START III), the only treaty that remained in force, limiting the upbuilding of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, is hanging in the balance. START III expires in February 2021. There is no chance to replace START III with a tripartite nuclear agreement proposed by the United States, since this proposal was rejected by China, Professor Abashidze told IDN.

He added that Washington does not respond to Russia’s call to engage in substantive discussion regarding the extension of the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty. At the time of the existence of the USSR, he said, there were powerful antiwar movements in the West, forcing the United States to sit at the negotiating table. However, in the current situations when the media are controlled by those who are interested in the arms race, such movements are impossible.

Professor Abashidze concluded that, “the uncontrolled flywheel of the arms race will be launched, from which everyone without exception will suffer, including the USA and the Russian Federation. The latter will also lose the mechanism of international control over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which is fraught with unpredictable and irreparable consequences, if not a nuclear catastrophe!”

Important to recall that, historically, the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START expired in December 2009. The new START agreement, signed on April 8, 2010 by the United States and Russia in Prague set some limitations. But, in order to keep the past achievements valid and in force, the parties have engaged in updating the key provisions of that treaty.

Beyond the agreements, it has been hard especially for the United States and Russia to work together because of the fundamental policies underlying their regimes. However, to make major strides toward nuclear abolition, it is also imperative to address the complicated issues of tactical and non-deployed nuclear warheads. The major obstacle here is the difficulty of verifying arms control limits in these categories.

In the recent years, Washington has been repeatedly accusing Russia of violating the treaty. Moscow strongly dismissed the accusations and voiced its own claims concerning Washington’s non-compliance. On October 20, 2018, President Donald Trump said that Washington would pull out of the INF Treaty because Russia had allegedly violated it. Berlin and Beijing criticized Washington, while London voiced its support for the United States, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) laid the blame for Trump’s decision on Russia.

President Trump did not hide that the key goal of the INF Treaty’s collapse is to make China and other global players join talks on arms control in the future. Meanwhile, the countries may resume the INF Treaty’s implementation if their leaders show political will.

Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted earlier in its report that the five nuclear powers (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) held a meeting in Beijing on January 30-31 to discuss arms control issues as well as the United States’ plan to withdraw from the treaty. The U.S. major concern relates to China and its ground-based missiles, and Russia’s alleged violations were excuses for withdrawing from the accord.

Experts believe that suspending the INF Treaty is an option. “The Americans gave official notification about their pullout six months in advance and after that the document has remained in effect for six months,” Deputy Director of the CIS Countries Institute and Military Expert, Vladimir Yevseyev, told the newspaper.

“Once the deadline expires, the document becomes null and void. This is how the pullout process would work. Usually, the move is justified by citing alleged threats to national interests or national security. We have failed to reach a compromise because the United States’ position was unconstructive from the very beginning. Washington first decided to withdraw from the treaty and then started looking for reasons.”

“The move to leave the document stems from Pentagon experts’ assessments, which showed that the U.S. is incapable of creating ground-based hypersonic missiles with a range of over 5,500 kilometers. After that, tensions started escalating,” Yevseyev pointed out.

As far back as in May 2019, Russia’s Izvestia financial newspaper said that Putin’s INF suspension bill was to act as signal for the global community. Russia reserves the right to resume the implementation of the INF Treaty at any moment despite the bill on suspending the agreement, Russian parliamentarians told Izvestia newspaper.

According to experts, the draft legislation submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 30 was a signal for the international community that Moscow was ready to maintain the status quo, but it plans to fully ensure its security giving a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s steps.

Meanwhile, the United States has started developing earlier banned types of weapons, the paper says. The accord was, actually voided back in February 2019, when the US announced that it was suspending its provisions, and the next day Russia announced that it would act similarly.

In March, Putin signed a decree on suspending the INF Treaty’s implementation and meanwhile the decision has been translated into a bill submitted to the State Duma (lower house). The bill says that the INF’s implementation will be put on hold and it’s up to the president to decide on further steps regarding the deal’s resumption.

Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Alexey Chepa, explained that this is a tit-for-tat measure for Washington’s withdrawal from the treaty. “We did not initiate this. But we reserve the right to restore the deal, if the counter party does this. Unfortunately, the Americans are interested in fueling tensions in Europe so that NATO countries earmark more money for military spending,” the lawmaker said.

“Besides, there is a powerful lobby in the U.S. consisting of companies and politicians. They want to take advantage of the treaty’s suspension and start manufacturing weapons, and obtaining more funds. This may increase tensions on the international arena.”

Amid the INF’s suspension, a serious rift among NATO countries can be on the horizon, Chepa noted. Some countries, which are ardent supporters of U.S. foreign policy, such as Poland and the Baltic states, may agree to the deployment of U.S. weapons on their soil, while other European countries are likely to adopt a measured approach and will hardly agree to become “a U.S. foothold”, he said.

Russia’s position, in any case, is to comply with the treaty until the status quo is maintained, said Yuri Rogulev, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt U.S Policy Studies Center at the Moscow State University. “In case of changes, we need a Plan B. The treaty was ratified by the parliament and the new bill enables the president to decide independently on what steps to take if necessary. This is, first of all, a signal for Europe. If the U.S. decides to deploy such missiles on the continent, Europe will become more vulnerable,” he explained.

Senior Research Fellow at the Primakov Institute of International and World Economy, Sergey Malashenkov, told IDN: Given the irreversible fact that in Europe, American missiles previously banned under the INF accord, could be deployed to NATO member-states, and in Asia – to Japan or South Korea where U.S. military bases are situated. These medium-and shorter-range missiles can be fired directly from the U.S. For example, Alaska separated from Russia by the Bering Strait, which is just 86 km wide.

“In light of Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the global situation has become much more difficult than before, and the threats to European security are now higher. It is important to establish a platform to dialogue all aspects of weapons of mass destruction and the nuclear non-proliferation regime. This has to meet the mutual interests of all parties involved in this process, taking note of transparency, trust and the dynamics of the agreement on non-proliferation,” Malashenkov said.

However, to make major strides toward nuclear abolition, it is also imperative to address the complicated issues of tactical and non-deployed nuclear warheads. The major obstacle here is the difficulty of verifying arms control limits in these categories, the expert said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that U.S. President Donald Trump was not only  brushing aside the prospect of signing a new Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but also wanted to involve China. Over the past years, China has produced an alarming number of missiles, which the United States was not allowed to have under the INF deal.

After Trump’s announcement on suspending participation in the arms control treaty with Moscow, Beijing lambasted the decision, calling on Russia and the US to sit down at the negotiating table.

The proposal for a new treaty is in the spirit of Trump’s philosophy, which throws into question all U.S. deals under the motto: “all earlier agreements were wrong, and I will sign the right ones”, Chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy of Russia, Fyodor Lukyanov, told the paper. “This is unreal because China does not even want to hear of any talks on this score and is pretending that this doesn’t concern it,” the expert noted.

However, Lukyanov did not exclude that another situation could occur forcing the Chinese leadership to sign a multilateral arms control deal, but special conditions were needed for this. In particular, the situation surrounding Taiwan, where the U.S. could boost its presence in order to exert pressure on China or another military and political situation, which could affect Beijing.

Should Trump or his administration suggest linking armaments to trade ties, which are a priority area for Beijing, China could in theory agree on signing the treaty in exchange for concessions in the trade war with the U.S. There is no data on the exact number of Chinese missiles, but “even according to hypothetic assessments, these arsenals are significantly smaller than those of Russia and the US,” according to Lukyanov.

In Vedomosti financial newspaper, former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, vehemently expressly the possible chaos and unpredictability in global politics, as a result, of the suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in an article published by Vedomosti, that “today, everything that was achieved in the years after we had put an end to the Cold War is in great danger” as “the United States’ decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty may reverse the situation”.

“In order to justify its stance, the U.S. points to the intermediate-range missiles that other countries have, namely China, Iran and North Korea. But, it does not seem convincing as the U.S. and Russia still own more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. In this connection, our two countries remain the superpowers.

“Other countries’ nuclear arsenals are 10 to 15 times smaller. Clearly, if the nuclear arms reduction process had continued, other nations, including the United Kingdom, France and China, would have had to join it at some point,” Gorbachev concluded.

In his objective view, Washington’s true intention for exiting the arms reduction deal seems different. “The U.S. seeks to free itself from all restrictions in the arms field and achieve total military dominance.” However, “one country’s hegemony is impossible in today’s world,” the ex-Soviet president emphasized.

“This destructive turn will have a different result, as it will destabilize the global strategic situation, lead to a new arms race and increase chaos and unpredictability in global politics. It will damage the security of all countries, including the U.S.,” Gorbachev warned.

He called on members of the U.S. Congress to launch dialogue with Russia on the nuclear weapons issue. “I regret that the scathing domestic political climate that has emerged in the U.S. in recent years has disrupted dialogue between our countries on an entire range of issues, including nuclear weapons. It’s time to overcome inter-party differences and start a serious conversation,” Gorbachev added.

“The politicians needed to assess the current situation and make sure that their actions would not set off a new arms race. I am confident that Russia will be ready for it,” Gorbachev affirmed in the published article.



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Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent research writer and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a board member of the Regional Council on Development of Relations with Africa, an economic and trade policy organization created by the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Moscow Region).

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