Trump’s announcement that the US will withdraw from the INF treaty came amid aggressive rhetoric coming from US officials aimed at China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton, during his visit to Moscow said that there is no way to salvage the INF. “There’s a new strategic reality out there,” Bolton said. “This is a cold war bilateral ballistic-missile-related treaty – in a multipolar ballistic-missile world.”
Bolton said that a big part of the decision is the fact that while the INF is in force, China, North Korea and Iran “are free to do whatever they want” and have made “very substantial strides” in developing intermediate range and missiles. He, however, said that expansion of the treaty to cover other countries is unlikely.
China is not part of it and may develop any weapons it sees fit. “The INF Treaty covers more than nuclear forces. It also prohibits conventional missiles with INF Treaty ranges too. And in the world of today, as China charges hard to expand its military power and reach, the United States is increasingly at a disadvantage.”
Because of the alleged imbalance imposed by the treaty, the US is at a disadvantage in pressuring China in the Indo-Pacific region and specifically in the South China Sea, which has been a hot point in US-China relations as of late.
The INF was allegedly legal barrier in front of Washington’s ability to compete with China, Iran and Russia (if presumed that only Russia violated the INF in the past).
“The status quo gave both Russia and China a geostrategic free lunch. By playing chess, Trump has raised a significant challenge for Beijing and Moscow. If they build more, we’ll build more missiles—and more missile defenses. Or, they can negotiate and honor a new, twenty-first century arms-reduction treaty that deals with twenty-first challenges.”
The China Daily published an editorial which claimed that US withdrawal from the INF means to open “Pandora’s box.” The reemergence of a potential nuclear standoff with Russia, and Trumps aggressive rhetoric toward China mean that Beijing will also feel the need to enhance its missile deployment.
John Bolton claimed that the withdrawal would not spark a new nuclear arms race. However, when announcing the withdrawal Trump vowed to build up America’s nuclear arsenal in response to what he portrayed as a growing threat from Russia and China. “Until people come to their senses, we will build it up,” Trump said in reference to US nuclear weapons capacity. “We have more money than anybody else by far.”
Earlier, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the current US ambassador to the UN, fanned the flame of fear of a preemptive war when she appeared to threaten an attack on Russia.
She claimed that Moscow is developing a new cruise missile, which according to Washington would violate the INF treaty. If Russia proceeds with development, according to Hutchinson, the Putin government would be put “on notice” of possible “countermeasures,” which “would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty.”
She warned that action could come when Moscow had developed its new weapon “to a point where we know they are capable of delivering. And at that point we would then be looking at a capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America in Alaska.”
Her remarks, as expected, triggered an international furor. She did walk back on her words, saying that she wasn’t threatening a preemptive strike. “After all, the new missiles really don’t change the threat facing America: Russia already is capable of hitting any target in America with its strategic missile force,” the article claimed.
The US ambassador’s remarks were disturbing, because any US preemptive strike would ensure a Russian retaliation and the potential of a large-scale war. Bandow emphasized that the US did not attack Russia during the Cold War, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Attacking the Russian homeland during peacetime would be simply mad.”
“However, hubris has dangerously infected America’s relationship with Moscow,” the analysis notes.
During the 2016 most of the Republican candidates, not Donald Trump, threatened Russia with war as a populist move. Most of them were prepared to start a war over the Syrian conflict.
A no-fly zone was the favorite proposal for candidates to use. “The only problem was that Russia and Syria were using airpower to target insurgents. However, the prospect of a military confrontation with Moscow only seemed to invigorate the candidates. And not just Lindsey Graham, who always treats military action as the first resort. Other candidates prepared for war with a nuclear-armed power included Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina.”
Chris Christie was most explicit, claiming that his first job as president would be to call Vladimir Putin and tell him that the US would be enforcing a no-fly zone. He didn’t elaborate what his reaction would be when Putin likely said that Russia would take down any US aircraft, plane for plane.
When asked if he was willing to risk war by shooting down Russian aircraft, Christie insisted: “Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it.”
In 2008, the country of Georgia targeted South Ossetian separatists, backed by Russian forces, with artillery, sparking a short war with Moscow. The late Sen. John McCain encouraged Tbilisi to believe that the US would join the war. There was even a debate in the Bush administration whether to actually take part in the war. Common sense won, and the US decided to not partake.
The US has its desire of global dominance; however, Russia also has its interests to protect. Especially those closer to it and greater than those the US might have.
“For instance, Damascus is a long-time Russian ally and Moscow’s one beachhead in a region dominated by America. Georgia was part of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union and remains on Russia’s border. Washington’s interest in both conflicts was marginal at best, and primarily humanitarian, which did not warrant war.”
Despite that presidential candidates and hawks in Congress were prepared to initiate a war over them, just to show strength.
Russia also cannot abandon important interests due to US demands. That would mean that it is succumbing to coercion and inviting it in other areas.
Bandow finally comes to the conclusion that US is still the most powerful nation and it would remain as such in the following years. However, its ability to impose its will on other regions appears to be weakening, mostly due to its questionable and isolationist conduct.