President Donald Trump has announced that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1987 will be abrogated and that the U.S. will embark on the development of a new mid-range nuclear capability.
While there is criticism that the abrogation of the treaty runs counter to the process of nuclear disarmament, this is a shortsighted view that overlooks the deteriorating security environment.
The INF Treaty bans the possession of land-based ballistic missiles with a range from 500-5,500 kilometers. It has indeed been a key treaty relating to nuclear disarmament.
While this treaty had been meaningful for the cause of nuclear disarmament, it has now become an obstacle to maintaining the security of the U.S., Japan, and other U.S. allies due to Russia’s recent violations of the treaty and the nuclear expansion of countries like China, which are not bound by it.
The reasons cited by the U.S. for withdrawing from the treaty, such as Russia’s deployment of mid-range nuclear weapons in violation of it, should be assessed level-headedly. The abrogation of the treaty is meant to protect the people of the U.S., Japan, and other allies from the threat posed by China’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons. This will also lead to a restructuring of the “nuclear umbrella” for Japan’s security.
The top priority in the nuclear arms issue is that the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must never be repeated.
The development of missile defense cannot 100% guarantee interception of missile attacks. At the current technological level of mankind, the only way to deal with the nuclear threat is through a system of mutual deterrence that involves nuclear capabilities. This has prevented nuclear war so far.
Nuclear deterrence has been the foundation of the major powers’ security in the postwar international community. Other countries that are affected by the international situation as a result of trends in nuclear deterrence have had to possess their own nuclear weapons or form alliances with nuclear powers for nuclear deterrence.
Japan is no exception. “Extended deterrence,” the “nuclear umbrella” provided by the U.S., constitutes the foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Japan has relied on this “nuclear umbrella” to inhibit adversary states from using nuclear weapons.
If only Russia is allowed to deploy mid-range nuclear arms, the security situation in Europe and Japan will deteriorate. Russian mid-range nuclear weapons will be able to attack Europe and Japan, but they cannot reach the U.S. mainland. This will give rise to doubts on the part of Europe and Japan about whether the U.S. will defend them at the expense of its own mainland, thus causing rifts in the U.S.-Europe and U.S.-Japan alliance relationships.
Today, unlike during the East-West Cold War era, a regime of nuclear deterrence and disarmament can no longer be established by the U.S. and Russia alone. We are in an age of nuclear multipolarization.
China and North Korea, which are not bound by the INF Treaty, are building mid-range nuclear capabilities. Yet the U.S. is prevented by the treaty to possess mid-range nuclear arms to counter them. The nuclear balance has become asymmetrical in Japan’s vicinity to the disadvantage of Japan and the U.S.
In April 2017, then-PACOM Commander Harry Harris testified in the U.S. Congress that the U.S. was unable to possess 90% of the missiles China was deploying under the INF Treaty. Trump stated on Oct. 20: “If Russia is doing it, China is doing it (expanding mid-range nuclear arms) and we’re adhering to the (INF) agreement, that’s unacceptable.” This reflected the U.S. government and military’s serious concern.
This is a valid view. If nothing is done about the present situation, the “nuclear umbrella” protecting Japan may become a broken umbrella. The deployment of mid-range nuclear weapons by the U.S. will become an issue sooner or later. We hope that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will engage in discussions with the Trump administration on the rebuilding of nuclear deterrence for Japan’s security. (Slightly abridged)