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Grave Concern About US-Russian Actions Evoking Cold War

By Santo D. Banerjee

Photo: A wide view of the Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security. 22 August 2019. United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

NEW YORK (IDN) – While nuclear experts and peace advocates have expressed heightened concern about the collapse of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States and Russia are trading accusations over breaching commitments and taking actions evoking Cold War era. [2019-08-28 | P12]  GERMAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

The Treaty was signed by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.

As Daryl G. Kimball points out, the treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and employ extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty's implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

Russia: ‘America Is Ready for Arms Race’

In a heated debate at the Security Council on August 22, 2019, Russia's Dmitry A. Polyanskiy said that for some time, Moscow and Washington, were implementing the INF Treaty, however the agreement has become “uncomfortable” to the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S: has developed missiles, based in Romania, making it clear that medium-range rockets could indeed be used in the area — and now, there are no limits on the development and deployment of similar systems, kicking aside the disarmament architecture.

Key figures in the U.S. Administration, he added, have made amply clear that they do not intend to implement the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty) in its current form.

Step by step, the United States is returning to another era and flexing its muscles, he said, and declared: “We are now one step away from an arms race; if you believe [U.S. President] Donald Trump, then America is ready for an arms race.”

He pointed out that the Russian Federation’s military budget is much lower than that of the United States — $700 billion — and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — more than $1 trillion. Despite that spending on weapons development has been included in the United States military budget, the Russian Federation has been blamed.

Russia's representative further said that the United States has repeatedly refused to answer Moscow’s requests for clarifications on queries about the 9M729 missile. His country also invited the United States to attend a meeting focused on this missile, yet no representatives from Washington, were present.

U.S.: Russia Has the Ability to Hit European Targets

The U.S. representative Jonathan Cohen maintained that Russia decided to break its treaty obligations, producing multiple battalions of new missile systems. Despite efforts to implore the Russian Federation to return to the provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the United States made a decision to withdraw.

Describing the current landscape, he said Russia and China would still like a world where the United States exercises restraint while they continue to build their arsenals. What the United States and NATO allies know is that the Russian Federation has violated the now-terminated Treaty, with actions that demonstrate the ability to hit European targets. China has also deployed similar systems, he added.

Highlighting U.S. activities, he said that today, there are no United States ground-launched missiles. Yet, China possesses 2,000 such weapons, which would have violated the INF Treaty if Beijing had been a party to it.

Describing United States missile launch systems that comply with Treaty obligations, he said Russia and China have moved in the opposite direction, developing new nuclear weapons capabilities, amassing more missiles, modernizing their arsenals and adding new weapons, including an underwater drone.

Wondering exactly what caused the nuclear-related explosion in the Russian Federation on August 9, 2019, he highlighted other worrying events triggered by Moscow and Beijing. The United States remains open to effective arms control that goes beyond treaty obligations, he said.

China: U.S. Withdrawal Intends to Assert Unilateral Actions

China's representative at the UN, Zhang Jun, said the Russian Federation and the United States should have properly handled their differences over treaty compliance through dialogue. However, the U.S. withdrawal will have negative effects that extend far beyond the INF Treaty. "It is unacceptable to use China as an excuse for the United States to leave the Treaty, he said, rejecting the baseless accusations made today."

Prominent destabilizing factors are threatening international security, and multilateralism is the key to addressing these challenges. All countries must work towards building a sustainable common future for all humankind and refrain from taking action that could threaten other States’ security.

The United States’ withdrawal intends to destroy the Treaty and assert unilateral actions, including by deploying missiles. For its part, China is in compliance with relevant treaties. All countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals should urgently fulfil their disarmament obligations, he said, encouraging Moscow and Washington to return to dialogue, reduce their arsenals and create conditions for advancing disarmament goals, including through extending the current New START Treaty. For its part, China pursues a national defence policy, has participated in multilateral arms control and opposes any kind of arms race.

Poland: Russia Bears the Sole Responsibility

Poland's Joanna Wronecka, Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity to stress that arms control and disarmament commitments must be verified and observed by all sides in good faith. Recalling that almost 3,000 missiles have been removed and verifiably destroyed under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, she expressed regret over the failure of United States efforts to preserve it.

“Erosion of this significant element of the European security architecture constitutes yet another challenge for international security,” she stressed, emphasizing that Russia bears the sole responsibility for the instrument’s demise and voicing regret that the country has shown no willingness nor taken steps to ensure its implementation in an effective, verifiable and transparent manner.

Poland, like other allies, supported the United States decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, she said, calling it “a logical and understandable reaction to Russia’s actions”.

South Africa: U.S. and Russia Should Resume Talks on New START

Earlier, South Africa's representative to the UN, Jerry Matthews Matjila, voiced concern that some nuclear-weapons States insist on modernizing their nuclear arsenals and means of delivery in flagrant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“It is indeed deeply troubling that a long-established arms control instrument such as the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] has unravelled, placing not only the region of Europe but the whole world at risk of nuclear war,” he said.

Urging the United States and the Russian Federation to resume discussions on a New START Treaty before its expiration in 2021, he pointed out that South Africa is the only country to have developed and then voluntarily eliminated its nuclear weapons.

Calling on the United Nations community to sign and ratify the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), he stressed that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes and warned that a selective focus on the latter — coupled with lack of progress on the former — weakens the non-proliferation regime.

UN Disarmament Chief: INF Treaty Demise Removes Vital Constraints

Briefing the Security Council on "threats to international peace and security/missile", Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs regretted that the INF Treaty’s recent demise had removed one of the few constraints on the development and deployment of destabilizing classes of missiles.

She stressed that the scrapping of the Treaty should not become the catalyst for renewed and unconstrained competition in missile development, acquisition and proliferation. All the more so, as "today, only the Russian Federation and the United States are subject to legally binding restrictions on the number of certain missiles they may possess”.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for all States to urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control, she said a growing number of countries — including those not party to existing multilateral arrangements — have acquired and developed their ballistic missile capabilities.

Indeed, more than 20 countries now possess ballistic missiles with capabilities that exceed the threshold for “nuclear capable” as defined by the Missile Technology Control Regime. "And nuclear-armed States are actively pursuing novel missile and missile defence capabilities with unclear and potentially negative consequences for international peace and security," she declared.

The development of weapons systems using missile technology that can manoeuvre at hypersonic speeds could further undermine security and spark a destabilizing arms race, Nakamitsu warned. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 August 2019]

Photo: A wide view of the Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security. 22 August 2019. United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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