Bringing back the Cold War rivalry! Are US and Russia moving towards ‘active aggression’

Published: March 5, 2019 1:48:53 AM

To conclude, with the INF Treaty becoming a part of history, all eyes are set on the fate of other global nuclear arms reduction treaties such as the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which, many fear, could reach the same end, thereby increasing the global arms race.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), Soviet Union , Cold War rivalry,Now, Russia fully intends to build new missiles, including the hypersonic ones, which would mean bringing any possibility of disarmament talks with the US extremely less likely.

By Martand Jha 

The first day of last month started with an explosive news in the arena of global security, when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US is pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Four days later, on February 5, Russia followed suit, bringing the INF Treaty to a collapse. This treaty was signed in 1987 between the then US President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the head of the USSR. It required the US and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km.

As per the Arms Control Association, “This was the first time in the Cold War history that the two superpowers, i.e. US and USSR, had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilise extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the US and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.”

The action and reaction of the US and Russia, respectively, with respect to pulling out of the INF Treaty reeks of a hawkish move by both the parties. This may led to a significant increase in the global nuclear arms race and an increase in frictions between the already strained relations of the US and Russia in the recent past. However, the decision by the US to pull out of the treaty is not a surprise to many experts who have been observing the US stance on the Russians violating the conditions of the treaty for a long time now. For the US, it was only a matter of time when they finally decided to call the shot on this.

This treaty was originally put in place to make the Euro-Atlantic region stable and secure. For a brief period in 1990s and early 2000s, the treaty did serve its purpose well, but a resurgent Russia under Vladimir Putin was making great strides to enhance its nuclear capabilities in the name of national interest. The US and its NATO partners have been accusing Russia of violating the terms of the INF Treaty for more than a decade now. Also, statements by Sergei Ivanov (ex-Russian defence minister) in the past added fuel to the fire when he termed the INF Treaty as the “relic of the Cold War” that “will not last forever.”

The question is, why did the US took so long to pull out of the treaty and why not do it earlier? Pompeo did answer it while announcing the US withdrawal from the treaty when he said, “We provided Russia an ample window of time to mend its ways and for Russia to honour its commitment, tomorrow the time runs out.”

But the more nuanced reason behind the US decision seems to be in the changing global nuclear politics of today. A powerhouse like China who has never been a party to INF has been increasing its nuclear stockpiles and enhancing its military capabilities, thereby alarming the security experts sitting in Washington. Secondly, Russia, despite being part of the treaty, has been found violating it time and again. Combining these two, the US found it to be in a losing position and a superpower like the US never wants to be in a situation where it has to play second fiddle.
A superpower is the one that maintains an absolute supremacy over every part of the planet. With a rising China and a resurgent Russia, the power of the US, especially in Asia, has been weakening, especially after China started behaving like a regional hegemon. By pulling out of the treaty, the Donald Trump administration wants to convey a strong message to Russia as well as China. Now when they are not a part of this treaty any more, the US can develop ground-launched missiles in order to keep Moscow’s aggression in check.

What this would lead to is a fundamental change from ‘passive aggression’ to ‘active aggression’ between global powers, especially between the US and Russia, both of whom seem to be itching to bring back the Cold War rivalry onto the table. This is precisely what the advocates of nuclear disarmament fear the most.

The proponents of nuclear disarmament have always argued that a treaty is always better than no treaty. When a treaty is in place, and one side violates it, the moral power always rests with the other side. In this case, the US could have easily taken a high position with its allies and the larger international community backing it to pressurise Moscow to respect the terms of the treaty.

Of course, this would have demanded a big diplomatic effort on the part of the US to achieve this uphill task, but that would have allowed the US to have leverage on Russia, which, many argue, has been thrown away after the February 1 decision. The Russian response to the US was even less surprising as they wanted to respond quid pro quo. Now, Russia fully intends to build new missiles, including the hypersonic ones, which would mean bringing any possibility of disarmament talks with the US extremely less likely.

To conclude, with the INF Treaty becoming a part of history, all eyes are set on the fate of other global nuclear arms reduction treaties such as the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which, many fear, could reach the same end, thereby increasing the global arms race.

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