U.S. to withdraw from weapons deal with Russia, sparking fears of nuclear arms race

Donald Trump has announced that the U.S. will withdraw from a decades-old arms control deal with Russia which has averted nuclear threats in Europe since the Cold War era.

“We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” the president told reporters on Saturday October 20, 2018 in Nevada. “Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years. We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to. Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,’ but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable.”

John Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser, pushed last Friday for a U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear arms control pact. He claimed Russia had been violating the treaty by developing a new cruise missile. Other U.S. hawks have criticised the treaty for putting their country at a strategic disadvantage to Chinese medium-range missiles (since China is not part of the agreement). Under terms of the treaty, the U.S. withdrawal could take effect within the next six months.

Additionally, Bolton opposes an extension of the 2010 New Start Agreement with Russia, signed by Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, which limited to 1,550 the number of deployed war heads for both parties. That is due to expire in 2021.

Legacy of Cold War Treaty at Stake

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) was signed by then-leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It banned ground-launch nuclear missiles, ranging from 500km to 5,500km. More than 2,600 short-and medium-range missiles were eliminated with the treaty, ending a standoff between the U.S. and Russia that  threatened security in Europe.

“This is the most severe crisis in nuclear arms control since the 1980s,” stated the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute, Malcolm Chalmers. “If the INF treaty collapses, and with the New Start treaty on strategic arms due to expire in 2021, the world could be left without any limits on the nuclear arsenals of nuclear states for the first time since 1972.”

Bolton arrived in Moscow last Sunday to discuss U.S. withdrawal from the treaty with Russian representatives. He met on Monday with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s security council and a close ally of Putin.

John Bolton and Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow on 22 October. Photograph: Russian Security Council / TASS

International Community Criticises U.S. Decision

Following Trump’s announcement, a Russian foreign ministry official condemned Trump’s announcement as an attempt to make the U.S. the single global superpower: “The main motive is a dream of a unipolar world. Will it come true? No.” 

Whereas German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pointed out that Russia had not resolved allegations of their violations of the INF treaty, he described the U.S. decision as “regrettable,” since the agreement is “an important pillar of our European security architecture.”

Gavin Williamson, defence secretary of the UK, backed Trump stating: “We of course want to see this treaty continue to stand, but it does require two parties to be committed to it and at the moment you have one party that is ignoring it. It is Russia that is in breach, and it is Russia that needs to get its house in order.”

The political short-sightedness of the U.S. administration was pointed out by Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons analyst with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California: “It’s a mistake. Russia violated the treaty, but we’re going to take the blame for killing it? Why do Putin a favor?” 

Most notably, Gorbachev himself uttered harsh criticism towards Trump’s decision: “You absolutely must not tear up old agreements on disarmament. Is it really so hard to understand that dropping these agreements … shows a lack of wisdom?” He declared: “Washington’s desire to turn back politics cannot be supported. Not only Russia, but also all who cherish the world, especially a world without nuclear weapons, must declare this.” 

Image Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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