Global efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals are nearing a serious crisis. U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that the U.S. will abrogate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. He claims that Russia’s violation of the treaty and the nuclear development pursued by China, which is not a signatory to the deal, are posing a national threat to the U.S. If the treaty is scrapped, the global arms race may escalate with the involvement of China.
The INF Treaty, which was aimed at eliminating ground-launched, nuclear-payload missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km, was signed by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. The accord guided the two nations to a first-ever reduction in their nuclear arsenals and served as a bellwether of the disarmament that followed.
On the INF abrogation, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the move “is very dangerous.” The U.S. and Russia are currently negotiating an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which aims to limit the number of their nuclear warheads that can be fitted to longer-range, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The treaty nullification would seem to hurt these talks.
President Trump claimed that Russia has been violating the INF Treaty by developing and deploying missiles ever since President Barack Obama was in office. Russia denies it has violated the treaty, but it deserves blame as for many years it did not address the issue.
The presence of China is also responsible for the deadlock over the treaty. President Trump even mentioned China, saying “if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable.”
China is pursing nuclear missile development and making preparations for actual combat. Russia, too, regards China as a threat because it shares a border with it.
If the INF Treaty is scrapped, China is expected to respond by accelerating its missile deployment. That would spark tensions in Asia including Japan. This will not only set back the DPRK’s denuclearization but will also harm the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.
It is estimated that the U.S. and Russia possess about 13,000 nuclear warheads combined, which account for more than 90% of nuclear weapons worldwide. Their prime responsibility is to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. They must realize the impact of the INF nullification on the rest of the world.
At the same time, the U.S. and Russia should explore ways to bring China to the table for discussions as its nuclear arsenal and missile development pose a threat that can no longer be ignored.
As an atomic-bombed nation, Japan can’t remain a bystander. It should back efforts to build a multilateral nuclear disarmament mechanism involving the U.S., Russia and China.