The New Global Arms Race

With Washington officially concluding its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, we have heard all about the reasons for the American withdrawal, most specifically that Russia has violated the terms of the treaty while Washington has "fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years…", we have heard very little about what Russian officials, most particularly Vladimir Putin, have had to say about the Treaty's demise.  In this posting, I will look at Russia's response to the collapse of the INF and a worrisome sign of what lies ahead for the global arms race from recent comments by U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

First, let's look at what Russian President Vladimir Putin had to say about the termination of the United States participation in the INF Treaty: 

"It is with regret that Russia states that the unilateral withdrawal by the United States from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles under a far-fetched pretext and the dismantlement of one of the last fundamental arms control treaties creates major complications for world affairs and brings about serious risks for everyone. Let me emphasise that all the responsibility for what has happened rests with the United States. Instead of engaging in a meaningful discussion on international security matters, the United States opted for simply undercutting many years of efforts to reduce the probability of a large-scale armed conflict, including the use of nuclear weapons.

Russia cannot ignore the current state of affairs or satisfy itself with hollow peace-loving declarations made by its American colleagues or their allies.

In this context, considering the current situation, I instruct the Defence Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States to develop, produce and deploy intermediate-range and medium-range missiles."

Here's what Mr. Putin has in store for the United States should Washington continue to develop its own intermediate-range missiles:

"If Russia obtains reliable information whereby the United States completes the development of these systems and starts to produce them, Russia will have no option other than to engage in a full-scale effort to develop similar missiles. Of course, this will take time. Until the Russian army deploys these weapons, Russia will reliably offset the threats related to the withdrawal by the United States from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles by relying on the means that we already have: the X-101 and the Kinzhal air-launched missiles, the Kalibr sea-launched missile, as well as future weapons systems, including Tsirkon-class hypersonic systems. At the same time, Russia maintains the unilateral commitments it has assumed, and will act only when it has to respond. This applies to developing, producing and deploying land-based intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. We will not deploy them in any given region until US-made intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles are deployed there." (my bolds)

Mr. Putin goes on to note that he hopes that common sense (which is, in reality, not all that common when it comes to the arms race) prevails and that the actions taken by the United States that brought about the collapse of the INF could also lead to the dismantlement of both the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which was implemented in March 1970 (and has not been signed by Israel) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which was implemented in December 1994 (START I), April 2000 (START II) and New START which was entered into force in February 2011 and is set to export in February 2021.

This is the most concerning part of Mr. Putin's comments:

"This scenario could signal a new start for an unfettered arms race. In order to avoid chaos with no rules, restrictions or laws, we need to once more weigh up all the dangerous consequences and launch a serious and meaningful dialogue free from any ambiguity."

Now, let's look at some comments from Sergey Ryabkov, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister on the termination of the INF:

"On August 2, six months after Washington initiated the withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the USSR and the US in 1987, the treaty has been terminated for all parties: the US, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

This means that a key treaty for establishing the regional and global security architecture no longer exists. Under the INF Treaty, the parties eliminated two classes of nuclear armaments: land-based intermediate-range and shorter range missiles. The missile launchers and all the associated support facilities and equipment were also destroyed.

Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty has dealt a great blow to the arms control system, which took decades to build. Far-reaching negative consequences for the entire architecture of global security and strategic stability are inevitable.

The US is entirely to blame for this. It was the American side that buried the INF Treaty by launching and completing the procedure for its unilateral withdrawal, while Russia consistently protected the treaty until the very end. In fact, it is completely incorrect to say that Russia has also withdrawn from the treaty and shares the responsibility, as some foreign officials and several media do.

Russia did everything possible to save the INF Treaty. In recent years, as soon as the US began moving towards the withdrawal from the treaty, we tried many times to start a constructive conversation with the Americans. We proposed a number of initiatives that would have made it possible to resolve the claims from both sides and save the INF Treaty. Russia was transparent beyond the treaty’s provisions.

However, all our efforts were ignored or turned down by Washington. Unfortunately, the US’s true goal was not to keep the INF Treaty but to get rid of the bans and restrictions on the buildup of the US missile potential. The US was purposefully working to untie its hands so that it can use an unlimited range of military tools to exert military pressure on any rival or opponent in the world…."

Mr. Ryabkov also notes that the United States Department of State published a misleading fact sheet on the INF on its website on July 30, 2019 in a last ditch effort to convince anyone who took the time to read it that America's stance on the INF was the only true stance, part of which is shown on this screen capture:

Mr. Ryabkov also weighs in on another issue, the deployment of Mk41 launchers that, according to him, have the capability to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles that are prohibited by the treaty. The Mk41 is a vertical launching system for missiles as shown here:

…and here:

The Mk41 comes in 11 variants and up to 61 cells can be installed.  The system can also be adapted for terrestrial use and systems that can be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles have been installed in both Romania and Poland, a development which Russia states is in contradiction of the INF Treaty as shown here:

Here is a promotional video from Lockheed Martin showing the Mk41 system in action:

Going back to Mr. Putin's comments about a new arms race, here are some recent comments from United States Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper after the collapse of the INF Treaty.  When asked by the press if he would consider "…at any point in the future deploying ground-based, intermediate-range missiles in Asia...", here is his response:

"Yes. I would like to. But let's be clear, I’m talking about conventional weapons…yes, INF range, right, exactly."

When asked about the timeline, here is his response:

"That's what we're just discussing. I would prefer months. I just don't have the latest state of play on timelines for either the cruise missile, or long-range missiles, as the Army was preparing it. But these things tend to take longer than you expect."

As you can see, there is actually a link between Washington's withdrawal from the INF Treaty and its desperation to protect its global hegemony.  By withdrawing from the Treaty, it will be able to continue to develop its arsenal of mid-range missiles which can be used to "kill two birds with one stone", Russia and most particularly China, a nation which is rapidly developing its domestic nuclear and conventional missile arsenal both of which are seen as a major threat to America's role as the sole global "police force".  With the collapse of the INF, we have now officially entered a new global arms race, one that threatens both Russia and China.

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