The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed in 1987 by the United States and the Soviet Union. It outlawed and eliminated all short and intermediate range nuclear and conventional missiles, and reduced overall stockpiles significantly.
This was, of course, part of the de-escalation in tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, spearheaded by Mikhail Gorbachev in the face of a severe economic downturn. Now, though, the situation is much more volatile. Trump’s erratic nature coupled with Putin’s authoritarianism is a recipe for potential disaster.
Donald Trump’s Presidency has so far been characterised by shirking the United States’ international obligations to preserve peace. This pattern has included the unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran; starting a major trade war with China; and continuing to provide arms to Saudi Arabia in their war against Yemen.
It seems that the US President does not understand the devastation that the renewal of nuclear proliferation would cause. Donald Trump’s irresponsible brinkmanship with North Korea last year made it clear that this is a President who does not see the outright danger of nuclear war and its consequences for the human race.
The clock is now ticking on this new arms race because six months after the United States announces its withdrawal from the INF Treaty, both the US and Russia will be able to possess short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles for the first time in 32 years.
United States diplomats have warned that the bilateral talks with Russia have, so far, failed. With a breakthrough unlikely and Russia consistently refusing to admit it is not complying with the existing treaty, any new non-proliferation agreement will take years to come to fruition. While Trump is at the helm, however, it may not come at all.
Ripping up the INF Treaty will not only lead to the development of new nuclear stockpiles by the United States and Russia, it will also encourage other nuclear states to become more active. This is no longer a bipolar world as it was during the Cold War, and the Soviet Union is long gone. Other rising superpowers, such as China, which are already armed with nuclear weapons, could look to increase their stockpiles should these important multilateral agreements be torn up.
And some states that are yet to acquire nuclear weapons may also look to develop these potentially catastrophic warheads. Both Iran and North Korea have reportedly been extremely close to obtaining the technology to build nuclear weapons in the past, but have so far been deterred by international condemnation, sanctions and multilateral agreements. However, Trump’s shortsighted decision could well inspire renewed motivation for rogue states to restart their bid to create and own these devastating weapons.
Russia’s parade of military capability last year, in which it announced the development of new nuclear-capable cruise missiles, is what the Trump Administration has taken issue with. However, if the INF Treaty is ripped up for good in six months time, Putin will have a largely unchecked, free rein to develop as many new nuclear weapons as he sees fit. A reactionary China may take similar steps.
The international community may well look at states who possess nuclear weapons with the same rejection and abhorrence as they do those who possess chemical and biological weapons. Tearing up long-standing multilateral agreements will only begin a spiral of contempt for such treaties, which could have unprecedented as well as unforeseen consequences for both the human race and the future of our planet. We must do all we can internationally and collaboratively to achieve a nuclear free world, a task made even harder if and when the INF Treaty is torn up.
Fabian Hamilton is the Labour MP for Leeds North East and shadow minister for peace and disarmament