On Tuesday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin met with visiting US National Security Adviser John Bolton. The meeting was held in the context of President Donald Trump's announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. When the pair met, President Putin reportedly criticized the United States for accusing Russia of not complying with the treaty. Making reference to the Great Seal of the United States, which has a bald eagle holding arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other, Putin asked "Has your eagle picked all the olives and only has arrows left?" Bolton replied, "I didn't bring any more olives." Needless to say, the two sides did not reach a consensus on the INF Treaty in the 90-minute meeting.
File photo of US President Donald Trump. (Photo: VCG)
The INF Treaty is an arms control agreement established in 1987 between the former Soviet Union and the United States. The treaty stipulated that the two countries no longer maintain, produce, or test land-based cruise missiles and ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. By May 1991, the treaty was fully implemented. The Soviet Union destroyed 1,752 weapons, and the United States destroyed 859. It was arguably the best arms control treaty implemented during the Cold War.
The treaty allowed either of the signatories to terminate the treaty – and that's what the United States under President Trump intends to do. Bolton's trip is part of the diplomatic show that will end with them walking away from this important agreement that has helped to maintain peace in Europe. So why does the United States feel the need to withdraw from this treaty?
One reason is that the United States is seeking to develop new weapon systems that would breach the treaty. In the early days of his election campaign, Donald Trump proposed that once he entered the White House, he would vigorously develop America's military power. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act requires US Defense Secretary James Mattis to develop a conventional road-mobile and land-launched cruise missile system with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The bill also requires Secretary Mattis to submit a report to Congress within 120 days of the bill signing, clarifying the cost, project schedule, and feasibility of modifying existing missile systems, developing a new missile system, and developing land-based medium-range cruise missiles. The development of these new weapons will give a tremendous boost to America's defense industry. Since President Trump took office, he has been keen to revitalize his country's manufacturing sector. One of the ways to do that is through large-scale domestic defense spending.
If the United States develops medium-range missile technology by tearing up the INF Treaty, this will inevitably lead to the development of new nuclear weapons, driving the escalation of the global arms race and casting a shadow over world peace. It has been noted that Russia has warned that if the United States withdraws from the treaty, Russia will respond in an effort to restore the balance of forces. And due to geographical factors, the United States does not need to deploy medium-range missiles for the defense in its homeland, which means that the medium-range weapons it develops would be deployed in the territory of its allies, doubtlessly complicating the situation in various regions and potentially accelerating the formation and outbreak of regional conflicts.
The withdrawal of the United States from the INF treaty also threatens to greatly undermine the legitimacy of other international treaties. Over the course of hundreds of years of international relations, sovereign states finally established a mechanism to guarantee the orderly operation of international relationships by signing long-lasting treaties. But President Trump's continuing withdrawal from global treaties undermines this historical cornerstone, and does not encourage compliance with new treaties in the future
For this reason, the decision of the United States to withdraw from the INF treaty has met with widespread opposition from the international community. Maja Kocijancic, the European Union's spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy, has said that "the world doesn't need a new arms race", and Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas plans to ask NATO for help to maintain the INF treaty. The United States is once again standing alone with another unpopular decision.
The American and Russian presidents plan to meet in Paris on November 11. The issue of the INF treaty will undoubtedly be raised. Hopefully the United States will take the opportunity to pull back from the brink and stop itself from destroying a cornerstone of world peace.
(The article was written by Wang Chunyan, assistant research fellow with the Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University)