WASHINGTON, D.C.: With the scrapping of a landmark arms control agreement on Friday, (Saturday in Manila) the US announced plans to test a new missile amid growing concerns about emerging threats and new weapons.
US officials said they were no longer hamstrung and could now develop weapons systems previously banned under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, a Cold War-era agreement that both sides repeatedly accused the other of violating. The treaty was also criticized because it did not cover China or missile technology that did not exist a generation ago.
The end of the treaty comes amid rising doubts about whether the two countries would extend an agreement on long-range nuclear weapons scheduled to expire in 2021. President Donald Trump said he had been discussing a new agreement to reduce nuclear weapons with China and Russia.
“And I will tell you China was very, very excited about talking about it and so was Russia,” Trump told reporters. “So, I think we’ll have a deal at some point.”
The Trump administration, which gave its six-month notice on February 2 of its pending withdrawal from the INF, had repeatedly said Russia was violating its provisions, an accusation former president Barack Obama made, as well.
“The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the formal withdrawal, calling a Russian missile system prohibited under the agreement a “direct threat to the United States and our allies.”
The end of the INF, which comes as world powers seek to contain the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea, is another milestone in the deterioration of relations between the US and Russia.
“The denunciation of the INF treaty confirms that the US has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This leads to the actual dismantling of the existing arms control system.”
A senior administration official downplayed the upcoming US weapons test, saying it was not meant to be a provocation. The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the test flight, said the US was “years away” from effectively deploying weapons previously banned under the agreement.
But the US might eventually want to base such weapons in Europe as a counterbalance to Russia, or in Asia to counter China.
“Since the strategic environment has changed rapidly since the end of the Cold War, we need to find ways to use arms control to address the rise of China’s nuclear arsenal, the increase of Russia’s non-strategic weapons stockpiles, and the emergence of new technologies like hypersonic weapons,” said Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Chinese United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun on Friday challenged what he said were efforts to make his country “an excuse” for the demise of the treaty: “You know, the United States is saying China should be a party in this disarmament agreement, but I think everybody knows that China is not at the same level with the United States and the Russian Federation.”
The point of arms control is to limit or stop a competition in weapons that, if left unconstrained, could endanger not just the big powers, but much of the rest of the world. Nuclear weapons are the clearest example of this, but advances in technology, the rise of China and the spread of nuclear capabilities to smaller countries like North Korea have complicated the problem.
That is one reason many in the Trump administration argue that extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) agreement with Russia, which is set to expire in February 2021, might not make sense. It is the only remaining treaty constraining the US and Russian nuclear arsenals.
New Start imposes limits on the number of US and Russian long-range nuclear warheads and launchers. The deal was made in 2010, but the limits didn’t take effect until 2018.
Trump has called New Start “just another bad deal” made by the Obama administration, and Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in June it is unlikely the administration would agree to the five-year extension to New Start that the treaty allows and which can be done without legislative action in either capital.
David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said if Trump doesn’t extend or replace New Start it would be the first time since 1972 that the US and Russia would be “operating without any mutual constraints on their nuclear forces.”