The issue of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty has surged as one of the critical factors in U.S-Russian relations, contributing to their even greater deterioration while exerting a negative impact on Moscow’s future ties with Washington.
The INF Treaty has outlived its purpose, in both formal and real terms. The pact does not take into account the current state of military confrontation between Russia and the West nor does it include how nuclear weapons have developed worldwide over the past thirty years. It also neglects the fact that a large group of countries that are not covered by the pact has in their nuclear stockpile medium-range missiles. Among such states is China, whose atomic arsenal keeps posing a threat to the United States and its Asian allies.
• While bringing the matter of the INF compliance to a head, Washington felt inspired by two major motives. First, it could no longer give the nod to being the only side to comply with the treaty while the other party, seen as a severe risk to U.S. security, breaches the provisions of the deal by making attempts to construct a forbidden weapon. Secondly, from Washington’s point of view, any mechanism to limit further proliferation of medium-range weapons will make sense only if it embraces China within its framework.
• Although the United States first informed about Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty in 2014, the first signs had appeared as early as in 2007. But before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Obama administration had not raised any public concerns over breaching the treaty. As reported in late 2016 and early 2017, these missile launchers entered into military service. The U.S. Pentagon said back then that Russia had already formed a few brigade sets of an upgraded version of its Iskander missile systems outfitted with Novator 9M729 medium-range cruise missiles, known by its NATO codename SSC-8. Some of the U.S. allies even confirmed Moscow’s noncompliance with the INF Treaty.
• The INF’s demise has a much greater political undertone rather than any actual impact on altering the strategic situation in its military aspect. Although still in force, the pact has not prevented Russia from posing risks of missile attacks against targets located across Europe. Such a danger arose after Moscow had furnished its Baltic Fleet and Black Sea Fleet vessels with the Kalibr missiles.
• The INF’s failure may be soon followed by that of the New START nuclear disarmament deal after the United States declared no willingness to extend the treaty after February 2012. The collapse of the arms control system does not have any significant impact on the actual balance of power and military potential of the United States and Russia. Moscow has long had medium-range missiles while having made efforts to develop new types of its supersonic weaponry independently of the INF Treaty.
Photo source: MIL.RU
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