Is an arms race already underway with or without the INF treaty?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. As US poised to formally abandon INF missile treaty do you expect that the US and Russia will quickly accelerate a production of short medium-range and intermediate-range missiles, and perhaps also their deployment (in case of the US in the Indo-Pacific region)?

2. Does the collapse of the INF treaty say us something, and what, about the future of nuclear arms control, especially regarding the New Start?

Answers:

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

1. I do not anticipate a major arms race starting right away, but the situation will not remain stable indefinitely either. The United States will start testing intermediate-range missiles this fall; this has already been announced. Russia may freeze production of the controversial 9M729, but will resume it under certain conditions. It’s all about reactions and counter-reactions as well as perceptions. It appears that NATO will respond in what it believes a moderate and measured manner – conventional weapons based on sea and air (that is, not land-based banned by the INF), at least in the foreseeable future. Long-range air- and sea-based conventional assets, however, have long been perceived by Russia as a key threat and, in part, fueled its modernization programs, both nuclear and conventional, in the past 20 years. Hence, Moscow is likely to eventually respond to that deployment. Then NATO will respond to that and the boll will roll. US will eventually deploy conventional INF-range missiles on land as well. Since all Russian systems are dual-capable, they will be increasingly perceived in NATO as nuclear and there will be calls for response….

In short, no one seems interested in an arms race right now, but the logic of the relationship and perceptions will likely trigger one and it may accelerate (unless there is enough political will – or political pressure – to engage in serious arms control soon). The situation is more complicated than in the early 1980s: then, at least, the bottom line was clear. Today, NATO says that Russia has INF-range missiles and will react; Russia says it does not have INF-range missiles, so NATO reaction is an arms race and may have to react.

2. The impact on New START extension will be negative. On the surface, the two are not directly related (except for overall political climate), but this is only on the surface. To recall, Russia had its own concerns over US implementation of the INF treaty as well; chief among them the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, which Russia said could launch cruise missiles. US flatly dismissed that concern. The US refusal to seriously consider ways to address Russian concerns, however, significantly limited Russian willingness to do more to alleviate US concerns about 9M729: Russia was apparently prepared to conduct much more extensive demonstrations, but on the condition of US reciprocity re: Aegis Ashore.

Now, Russia has concerns about US implementation of New START, which US has dismissed (it’s about conversion of submarines and bombers for fewer weapons). US dismissal of INF-related concerns has hardened Russian insistence that its New START-related concerns are properly addressed. Meaning, even if US decided at the last moment to extend New START, it is not obvious that Russia would instantly agree. At a minimum, it may demand that US promised to seriously address its concerns during the 5-year extension period, to which the US will almost certainly say no.

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

1. Russia in reality already has a number of missiles with such ranges that it can deploy on land, according to US intelligence estimates. Some missiles can also be quickly modified. The US is working on three missile systems that would have been barred under the INF treaty, but it is unclear whether it will receive the necessary funding from the Democrat-dominated Congress. An arms race is already underway with or without the INF treaty. Russia and the US are both modernizing their nuclear arsenals and investing in hypersonic missiles and modernizing their intercontinental-range ballistic missile forces. Having said that, the US has repeatedly stated that its new land based intermediate range missiles will not be armed with nuclear warheads. However, they are certainly nuclear-capable.The major issue for the US will be where to deploy the missiles in Europe and Asia. Poland could be a likely candidate but such a deployment would remain controversial. There is currently no country in Asia that would take such missiles, but likely places could be Guam, Okinawa, or if the US administration wants to be more confrontational with China, in Taiwan. Either way, Europe’s security will be significantly weakened with the end of the treaty.

2. Start is in real danger. Currently, I believe that the treaty will not be extended given that neither party has shown interest in it in its current form. The US wants to bring in China as a pre-condition for any future strategic arms limitations negotiations. However, China with its small arsenal has shown little interest. It is therefore it is unlikely that the treaty will be extended unless they US abandons the idea of bringing China back in, which under the Trump administration is not likely to happen. Also, the unwillingness of China to join talks, is a good excuse for the US to abandon strategic arms limitations talk. What will be interesting is in what way Russia and China will coordinate their responses on future negotiations. Last week’s first joint China-Russia bomber patrol is a good indication that the two countries are moving closer.

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

1. I do not expect the US to develop or deploy INF systems quickly. Building and deploying these systems will take time. With the end of the INF Treaty, however, they do become an option the United States can pursue, in Europe or Asia. As competition intensifies with China, the United States may well decide to opt for such systems in Asia.

2. The future of nuclear arms control is uncertain, both because of compliance issues and because the strategic landscape has changed. The landscape used to be bilateral (between the United States and Russia) and the focus was nuclear weapons. The landscape now is multilateral (there are several nuclear-armed states) and the focus is no longer solely on nuclear weapons but also on defensive systems and other platforms.

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

1. No. Neither side really has that capability yet. I think we’re not near such an acceleration.

2. It says quite a bit about how the Trump administration, and probably John Bolton in particular, views arms control. We’ve entered a period, at least for now, where the current administration is quite hostile to any arms control regime. This may be a temporary phase, but much depends on the 2020 elections.

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

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