The administration of US President Donald Trump notified Russia that the United States will leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, on the grounds that Russia has been violating it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also announced Russia’s withdrawal from the pact. The treaty will become null and void six months after the notification.
The treaty, which the United States and the Soviet Union signed in 1987, stipulates that ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 kilometres and 5,500km must be totally abolished. Thanks to the treaty, the situation of the United States and Russia confronting each other in Europe with their nuclear missiles has been eliminated, and the confidence-building measures taken through verification work created the trend toward ending the Cold War.
The lapse of a treaty that played a historic role will be a heavy blow to the arms reduction system. The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which limits long-range nuclear forces and the like, will also expire in 2021. Talks on extending this treaty will inevitably be adversely affected.
The United States and Russia must not leave the current situation to take its own course but instead must make their fullest diplomatic efforts to keep the INF treaty from becoming invalid.
What the United States regards as problematic is Russia’s new ground-launched cruise missile. Since the era of the previous US administration under president Barack Obama, the US has stressed its view that Russia has been violating the treaty and has demanded that Moscow eliminate the missiles.
Russia obstinately denies having violated the treaty. Such a stance of abdicating the duties of arms reduction as a nuclear state cannot be overlooked. It is understandable that the United States is beefing up its deterrence so as to protect itself and its allies.
The problem is that the recent US notification of the treaty withdrawal came while Trump, even after he announced a policy of leaving the INF treaty last October, has not presented any concrete strategy toward Russia.
Also, because of the scandal of Russian conspiracy allegations surrounding the Trump administration, there is little likelihood for summit talks between Trump and Putin to be held now. How will Trump obtain a toehold for improving bilateral relations with Russia, which are said to be at their worst since the end of the Cold War?
Meanwhile, China, unfettered by the INF treaty, has been building up its medium-range missile capabilities. It is important for the US and Russia to steadfastly maintain the existing framework, and also for China to be brought into the arms reduction efforts. The US administration must deepen its cooperation with its allies and work out its strategies toward Russia and China.
Such an international race in missile buildup, which might reprise the one seen during the Cold War era, would drastically change the global security environment. Should such a rivalry play out in Asia, Japan would be seriously affected. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must beef up his approaches to both the US and Russia.
During negotiations to draw up the INF treaty in the 1980s, the idea of permitting the Soviet Union to field its medium-range missiles in the Far East was also discussed. Then-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone expressed to then-US president Ronald Reagan his concerns over that idea, leading to the realisation of the missiles’ total abolition. This can be a helpful example.