The US withdrawal of a key Cold War treaty unleashes fear of an arms race


Washington abandons the agreement for the elimination of medium and short-range nuclear missiles signed with Moscow in 1987

The treaty for the elimination of medium and short-range nuclear missiles (INF), a milestone of the Cold War signed by Washington and Moscow in 1987, is history since this Friday, the date on which the U.S. exit has been formalized, triggering the fear of a new global arms race. Washington, which plans to conduct missile tests banned by the INF this summer, advocates a new model for global control of nuclear weapons that includes China for the first time. But you run the risk of leaving the world without any arms control.

The end of the INF preludes that of the new START treaty, which limits the long-range nuclear weapons of the two powers and expires in February 2021. The US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has already said that it is unlikely that This treaty is renewed. Thus, for the first time in half a century, all binding and verifiable legal limitations to the growth of the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world would disappear.

NATO has blamed Russia on Friday for the failure of the INF, which contributed decisively to global security for three decades, and has backed Washington in its decision to withdraw from it. The United States accuses Moscow of the death of the treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, as he says that for years he has violated his terms, developing missiles vetoed by him that threaten the United States and its European allies.

“Russia is solely responsible for the death of the treaty,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday in a statement. “During the last six months, the United States gave Russia one last chance to correct its breaches. But, as it has done for many years, Russia decided to keep the missiles that violate the agreement, instead of re-adhering to the obligations of this treaty “.

But Russia is not just the nuclear power that the United States seeks to counteract with its new missiles. Trump advanced in October 2018 his intention to withdraw from the treaty and on February 1 he officially announced it, opening a mandatory six-month period, which expired this Friday, so that Moscow fulfilled its obligations. In all this time, it has been sending signals that China, which is not subject to any arms control agreement and has been investing in defense for years, was a determining factor in that decision.

Washington today considers the Asian giant a long-term strategic rival more relevant than Russia, and has invited Beijing to be part of “a new era of arms control” that includes other nations with powerful military forces. The US Department of Defense estimates that China’s nuclear arsenal consists of about 290 weapons, an amount significantly less than the more than 1,300 nuclear warheads each have, the United States and Russia. But the rapid development and increasing capacity of the Chinese arsenal worry the Pentagon.

“From now on, the US urges Russia and China to join us in this opportunity to deliver real security results to our countries and the entire world,” Pompeo said.

Beijing has made it clear that it has no intention of negotiating the reduction of its nuclear capacity, and the more Chinese arsenal grows, the less likely it is that the US and Russia will decide to reduce theirs. That, coupled with the difficulty of Washington and Moscow currently reaching consensus on a common program for the arms control of the future, calls into question the Trump administration’s multilateral strategy.

So far, the United States has given up testing missiles that violate the treaty. But since this Friday he is free to do so. And it plans to carry out tests in the coming weeks with intermediate range missiles. Specifically, a version of the Tomahawk cruise missile, modified to be launched from the ground and not from vessels, that could be ready to deploy on the ground in a year and a half.

Russia has announced through a statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “on the initiative of the US side, the treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States on the elimination of its intermediate and short range missiles is terminated.” Washington once claimed, as an argument to get out of the treaty, Moscow’s refusal to destroy a cruise missile that violates the terms of the pact. It is a 1,700 kilos projectile that measures eight meters long: the Novator 9M729 (SSC-8, according to the NATO classification). According to the US, it violates the treaty by exceeding 500 kilometers of range.

But tensions come from afar. For years, Washington and Moscow have been accusing each other of violating the treaty, which prohibits the two countries from manufacturing, deploying or conducting tests of short-range (500-1,000 kilometers) and medium-range (1,000-5,500 kilometers) missiles. Under his protection more than 2,600 of these weapons have been destroyed.

The end of the historic treaty, at a time when the risk of military confrontation with North Korea or Iran grows, revives nuclear geopolitics. And it helps to return the world to a time, the risk of a nuclear conflict, which was already buried.

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