Will an arm race in Europe reappear without INF missile ban?

We are basically counting hours before the Trump administration will announce that it will walk away from the INF Treaty. It will create a new situation, so what could be done to mitigate the damage and should we be worried about possible new arms race in Europe? Read few comments.

All Allies agreed that Russia’s SSC-8 system violates the INF Treaty, says NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Credit: https://www.nato.int/

Thomas Nichols*, Professor of National Security Affairs, U. S. Naval War College

The INF Treaty was a cornerstone not only of European security, but of global peace. The Russians are violating the treaty because they want to intimidate the Europeans, but I don’t think the answer to this kind of obvious provocation is in a new arms race. Nothing has changed the fundamental strategic balance between Russia and NATO – and the Russians know this better than anyone.

* These views are the author’s only do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Naval War College and the U.S. Government

Nikolai Sokov, Senior Fellow, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey

It is still unclear whether US will file a notification about withdrawal – so far it is clear they will suspend implementation of INF (unknown whether all articles or just some), so we’ll need to wait a day or two. The outcome will be almost the same – INF will cease to operate. The only difference – if US announces withdrawal, then there is six months to attempt to resolve differences, if only suspension, then longer. Problem is, there is almost no chance differences will be resolved.

I do not expect that practical steps in contravention to INF (if you so not count the contested issue of 9M729) will be taken soon. On the US side, there will be development, which will take time, and then a debate in NATO about deployment of new assets. The most likely first US INF-range system is the “supergun” with the range of 1,600 km developed by the Army (and, in general, the Army is particularly active in INF-range category). It is likely that NATO will not be able to make a consensus decision on deployment, so the deployment will take place on the bilateral basis – US-Poland most likely (and, in fact, Poland is the optimal site for systems with that range). Russia will continue to upgrade Iskander and will create a new modification claiming that 9M729 did not violate INF, but here is a new one with INFrange. All this will begin to happen in 2020, I believe, or even 2021.

On the arms control side, much will depend on the manner in which INF will end – in diplomacy, style is as important as substance. The questions are two: who will talk to Russia and to whom Russia will talk.

On the first question, I do not see much prospect for US-Russian engagement. The INF is ending as a major conflict (the parties essentially do not talk to each other), plus bilateral relations are at an extremely low level and can get even worse, so any arms control conversation with Moscow will be classified in Washington as a betrayal. If it’s all left to US and Russia, we will not see arms control for years and will instead see an unrestricted arms race, something we have not witnessed since the 1960s.

The only actor capable of talking to Russians is Europe and, more precisely, Germany. Berlin seems willing, but can it? There will be accusations about split in NATO, Putin’s victory, etc. But Europe-Russia channel is the only one that can exist. Although there can be no treaty without US, at least preliminary negotiations can be done by Europe as an actor or as an intermediary.

Whether Russia will want to talk to anyone will depend on behavior in the coming months – which is why I say the manner of INF end matters. To be able to talk to the Russians, for example, Germany will have to demonstrate that it is willing to engage and listen – not agree, but listen. In this sense, refusal to participate in the 9M729 demonstration a week ago was a tactical mistake.

Franz-Stefan GadySenior Fellow, EastWest Institute, Associate Editor, The Diplomat

Yes, Europe should be afraid of a new arms race. It is, however, already happening: the US and Russia are both modernizing their nuclear arsenals. The abandonment of the IMF treaty will only further escalate an ongoing arms races. What is little understood perhaps is that the origins to all of this were already sown by the US walking away from the ABM treaty in 2002. This led to a big fear in Russia that the US will make its homeland invulnerable to Russian ICBMs via new ballistic missile defense systems, which turned out to be not working as well as the US hoped (U.S. interceptors have around a 50 % success rate in shooting down ballistic missile targets in tests.) Nonetheless, Russia has invested into weapons systems (nuclear torpedoes, Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle etc.) to circumvent US ballistic missile defense.

What can Europe do?

Try to find a common agreement at the NATO and EU level that no European country will allow the stationing of US ground-based intermediate range nuclear missiles, perhaps in conjunction with US allies such as South Korea and Japan in Asia. This could trigger a diplomatic crisis within NATO, but it may be worthwhile taking the risk  At the same time, actively encourage the US and Russia to not give up negotiating and perhaps introduce a framework for more sustained arms limitations negotiations. However, European leverage is limited. The old continent is simply caught in the middle.

We should keep in mind: Ultimately Europe’s security is guaranteed  by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. That umbrella works without additional nuclear weapons in Europe.

Steven PiferNonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution, Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

Unfortunately, the demise of the INF Treaty appears imminent.  Russia has violated the treaty by deploying a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile (the 9M729), and U.S.-Russian discussions have not identified a path to preserve the treaty.  U.S. officials have indicated that Washington will suspend its obligations under the treaty — which could happen as early as this Saturday — and give notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty.

With the INF Treaty gone, Russia will be free to openly deploy the 9M729.  The Russian military may also consider other intermediate-range missiles, perhaps a ballistic missile that could strike targets much more quickly than could a cruise missile.

The Pentagon is developing an intermediate-range missile of its own (research and development is permitted under the INF Treaty, as long as it does not get into flight testing).

NATO will consider countermeasures to ensure that the Russian deployments do not yield a significant military advantage.  It is difficult, however, to see NATO reaching a political consensus to deploy a new U.S. intermediate-range missile.  That means there will not be the prospect of a U.S. missile in Europe that could lead the Kremlin to rethink what it is doing, just as deployment of U.S. Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe in the 1980s caused Moscow to negotiate and agree to a ban on land-based intermediate-range missiles in the INF Treaty.

So, Russia will go forward with its intermediate-range missile deployments, and NATO will respond in some as yet unspecified way.  The result of the INF Treaty’s end will be a less stable and secure Europe.

David Santoro, Director and Senior Fellow for Nuclear Policy, Pacific Forum

My view on this is that a new arms race is possible, yes. Despite the US announcement that it would withdraw from the INF Treaty, there may be time to “save” the treaty, if Russia decides to come back into compliance. The Administration, however, is not solely looking at Russia: it’s also worried about China. Ideally, an amended or new INF Treaty would emerge, one that would have the US, Russia, and China as members.

Garret Martin, Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, American University

t is possible that we will see a new arms race in Europe, but it is not by any means automatic either. The collapse of the INF Treaty does not fundamentally affect the balance of power in Europe. However, there might be a greater chance of seeing an arms race in other parts of the world, especially Asia. After all, the INF Treaty only applied to the US and the Soviet Union (then Russia) when signed. China, therefore, has not been subject to these limitations and has expanded its nuclear arsenal in recent years, noticeably with missiles in the intermediate range prohibited by the INF. With the INF out of the way, the US will surely seek to counter China.

There are a few ways that the US and others could mitigate the damage tied to the collapse of the INF Treaty. Countries could, after all, put pressure on Russia to stop violating the INF Treaty, since there is a 6 month window before the US withdrawal is confirmed. However, that solution is not very likely to work. Second, showing a continued commitment to arms control would also help, such as negotiating an extension of the New Start Treaty, which is due to expire in 2021. Third, the US and allies could seek to negotiate a more comprehensive Treaty to replace the INF, and one that would include other major powers. That would undoubtedly be challenging, but it would limit the risk of a major escalation and arms race.

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