Rising Concern in Russia About Spiralling Arms Race

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Photo: More than 100 US-built missiles having the capability to strike Moscow with nuclear warheads were deployed in Italy and Turkey in 1961. In August 1963, the US joined the Soviet Union and United Kingdom in agreeing to ban nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space, or under water, and places significant restrictions on detonating nuclear devices underground. The Limited Test Ban Treaty reflects concerns about the dangers of nuclear fallout. A high-speed “hotline” connecting the leaders of the Soviet and U.S. governments is established to mitigate the risk of accidental warfare. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

MOSCOW (IDN) – Russia is convinced that proliferation risks and threats that are rampant today can be eliminated by the strict observance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while respecting and ensuring the balance between its three components: nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy. [2019-12-18-24] JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

The NPT will be reviewed in May 2020 at an international conference at the UN Headquarters in New York. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov considers it crucial that the upcoming conference is held “as non-confrontationally as possible and not repeat the sad experience of the 2015 conference, when in fact, the participants refused to talk to each other and even to listen to each other, and each stated their position independently of what the others were saying”.

“This was the reason for a rather dangerous and at the same time illusory trend to prevail, namely to ‘force’ the nuclear powers to abandon their existing nuclear arsenals without taking into account their security interests and strategic realities. This approach led to an accelerated drafting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which was open for signature,” Lavrov said in remarks at an international conference in Moscow on November 8, 2019.

“Russia does not plan to accede to this treaty,” Lavrov emphasised. “We share the goal of building a nuclear-free world. However, this goal should not be achieved by the unilateral, rather arrogant methods on which this document is based. We presume that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is possible only in the context of general and complete disarmament where equal and indivisible security is ensured for all, including nations with nuclear weapons, in accordance with the NPT,” he added.

Professor Aslan Abashidze, Head of the Department of International Law of the Russian University of Peoples' Friendship and Member of the Scientific Advisory Board under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told IDN that the U.S. has been walking out of several treaties with Russia and its western partners signed over the years after tough negotiations.

"Among the remaining international strategic treaties, an important one is the Treaty on Open Skies, which … creates trusted relations primarily between nuclear powers. Unfortunately, the White House has repeatedly voiced its intention to unilaterally withdraw from this agreement," Professor Abashidze told IDN.

At the same time, the fate of a follow-up on the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), he added, is hanging in the balance. It was signed on April 8, 2010 in Prague and, after ratification, entered into force on February 5, 2011. It expires 2021.

Professor Abashidze lamented that Washington is not responding to Russia's call to engage in substantive discussions on the extension of the Treaty. But there are no protests in the West similar to those in 1980s against the arms race between the U.S. and then Soviet Union.

Professor Abashidze warned that impending "uncontrolled arms race” will not only cause untold suffering to everyone in the U.S. and the Russian Federation and beyond, but also harm the mechanism of international control of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – a development fraught with unpredictable and irreparable consequences, “if not a nuclear catastrophe".

Equally of grave concern is the suspension of the INF Treaty. On October 20, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the Treaty citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s intermediate-range missile arsenal.

Experts believe that the door is not yet closed on the INF Treaty. "The Americans gave official notification about their pullout six months in advance and after that the document has remained in effect for six months," Deputy Director of the CIS Countries Institute and Military Expert, Vladimir Yevseyev, told Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

"Once the deadline expires, the document becomes null and void. This is how the pullout process would work. Usually, the move is justified by citing alleged threats to national interests or national security. We have failed to reach a compromise because the United States' position was unconstructive from the very beginning. Washington first decided to withdraw from the treaty and then started looking for reasons,” he added.

According to Yevseyev, “The move to leave the document stems from Pentagon experts' assessments, which showed that the U.S. is incapable of creating ground-based hypersonic missiles with a range of over 5,500 kilometers. After that, tensions started escalating,"

As far back as in May 2019, Russia's Izvestia financial newspaper said that Putin's INF suspension bill was to act as signal for the global community. Russia reserves the right to resume the implementation of the INF Treaty at any moment despite the bill on suspending the agreement, Russian parliamentarians told Izvestia newspaper.

According to experts, the draft legislation submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 30 was a signal for the international community that Moscow was ready to maintain the status quo, but it plans to fully ensure its security giving a tit-for-tat response to Washington's steps.

Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Alexey Chepa, has explained: "We reserve the right to restore the deal, if the other party does this. Unfortunately, the Americans are interested in fueling tensions in Europe so that NATO countries earmark more money for military spending," the lawmaker added.

"Besides, there is a powerful lobby in the U.S. consisting of companies and politicians. They want to take advantage of the Treaty's suspension and start manufacturing weapons and obtaining more funds. This may increase tensions on the international arena."

Chepa expects a serious rift among NATO countries on the suspension of the INF Treaty. Some countries, which are ardent supporters of U.S. foreign policy, such as Poland and the Baltic states, may agree to the deployment of U.S. weapons on their soil, while other European countries are likely to adopt a measured approach and will hardly agree to become "a U.S. foothold", he said.

Senior Research Fellow at the Primakov Institute of International and World Economy, Sergey Malashenkov, told IDN: Given the irreversible fact that in Europe, American missiles previously banned under the INF accord, could be deployed in NATO member-states, and Asia – in Japan or South Korea where U.S. military bases are situated. These intermediate-range missiles can be fired directly from the U.S. For example, from Alaska, which is separated from Russia by the Bering Strait, which is just about 82 kilometres wide.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the INF Treaty with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1987, is warning of possible chaos and unpredictability in global politics, as a result of the suspension of the Treaty. He wrote in an an article published by Vedomosti, that "today, everything that was achieved in the years after we had put an end to the Cold War is in great danger" as "the United States’ decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty may reverse the situation".

"In order to justify its stance, the U.S. points to the intermediate-range missiles that other countries have, namely China, Iran and North Korea. But it does not seem convincing as the U.S. and Russia still own more than 90% of the world's nuclear weapons. In this connection, our two countries remain the superpowers.

“Other countries' nuclear arsenals are 10 to 15 times smaller. Clearly, if the nuclear arms reduction process had continued, other nations, including the United Kingdom, France and China, would have had to join it at some point," Gorbachev concluded.

In his view, Washington's true intention for exiting the arms reduction deal seems different. "The U.S. seeks to free itself from all restrictions in the arms field and achieve total military dominance." However, "one country’s hegemony is impossible in today's world," the ex-Soviet president emphasized.

Gorbachev called on members of the U.S. Congress to launch dialogue with Russia on the nuclear weapons issue. "I regret that the scathing domestic political climate that has emerged in the U.S. in recent years has disrupted dialogue between our countries on an entire range of issues, including nuclear weapons. It's time to overcome inter-party differences and start a serious conversation,” Gorbachev said.

“The politicians needed to assess the current situation and make sure that their actions would not set off a new arms race. I am confident that Russia will be ready for it," Gorbachev affirmed in the article. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 December 2019]

Photo: More than 100 US-built missiles having the capability to strike Moscow with nuclear warheads were deployed in Italy and Turkey in 1961. In August 1963, the US joined the Soviet Union and United Kingdom in agreeing to ban nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space, or under water, and places significant restrictions on detonating nuclear devices underground. The Limited Test Ban Treaty reflects concerns about the dangers of nuclear fallout. A high-speed “hotline” connecting the leaders of the Soviet and U.S. governments is established to mitigate the risk of accidental warfare. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

facebook.com/IDN.GoingDeeper - twitter.com/nukeabolition