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Editorial: U.S. withdrawal from INF must not lead to arms race

The U.S. has announced its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia. If this goes on, the treaty will become invalid in six months. As an arms buildup is expanding worldwide, we should not make the U.S. withdrawal an opportunity to promote an arms race.


The INF treaty came into force in 1988. Under the treaty, the U.S. and Russia scrapped all ground-launched intermediate-range missiles (with a range of 500km to 5,500km) that can carry a nuclear warhead. It was a landmark treaty that incorporated the total abolition of specific weapons in nuclear disarmament.


The U.S. Trump administration claims that short-range missiles, which Russia has developed and deployed, violate the treaty. Washington has warned that unless Russia stops violating the treaty, the U.S. will suspend its fulfillment of the obligation under the treaty. However, Russia did not admit the violation claimed by the U.S. and the two countries were unable to compromise to each other.


The U.S. stated it will take back its abrogation of the INF treaty if Russia stops violating the treaty within six months. The U.S. and Russia should first seek to compromise.


Meanwhile, Russia announced last December that it will deploy hypersonic missiles in 2019. China, which is not bound by the INF treaty, has steadily deployed intermediate-range missiles.


In response, the U.S. administration announced in January a plan to develop a space-based missile defense system similar to the Strategic Defense Initiative, or the so-called the “Star Wars” defense plan, that emerged in the 1980s.


The U.S. and Russia possess more than 90% of all nuclear warheads worldwide. If the two countries launch into an arms race, it is tantamount to playing with nuclear weapons. The two countries are instead responsible for taking the lead in a new multilateral disarmament posture including China.


China is negative about joining such a multilateral framework, but nuclear disarmament is an area where the U.S. and Russia should cooperate with each other to put pressure on China. President Trump said, “A new treaty in which every country can participate is desirable.” As Russia is in dire straits, Moscow also wants to avoid an arms race. Japan should support this. 


We must recognize that if the INF treaty is scrapped, it will impact the security environment of not only Europe but also East Asia.


During the Cold War, the now-defunct Soviet Union deployed more than 100 intermediate-range missiles in the Far East. If Moscow redeploys them, Japan will have to review its defense plan. The redeployment may also affect negotiations between Japan and Russia for a peace treaty. It will cast a shadow on the Russia-China relationship as well.  


The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will expire in 2021. We need to avoid such an abnormal situation as the absence of nuclear arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia.

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