Arms control: Out of vogue

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Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

THE bipartisan nuclear arms control framework constituted during the Cold War is in the process of expiring. On 20October2018, President Donald Trump announced his intention to quit from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, citing a Russian violation and the need to counter Chinese missiles. The ending of the INF Treaty will restart the nuclear arms race in Europe and simultaneously spreading globally. The demise of it also ends the chances of New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) extension in 2021. The Treaty lapse would, ‘for the first time in 50 years, leave US and Russian nuclear arsenals unconstrained by any verifiable limits. The conclusion of bipartisan arms control entraps China and further deepens arms race between India and Pakistan.
The nuclear-armed states, the party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are not prepared to erase their nuclear arsenals despite their pronounced disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Treaty. Though, the overwhelming majority endorsed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) to delegitimise nuclear weapons in July 2017. In reality, there is neither denial of nuclear deterrence vitality in the defence policies of nuclear-armed states, nor the termination of a vertical proliferation of atomic weapons.
The cold war bipartisan arms control architecture faced the first jolt in 2002. The United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) in June 2002. Since then it has been advancing its Ballistic Missile Defence Program. On 30 May 2016, it conducted a successful test of ballistic missile interceptor from the Reagan Test Site in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific towards the Alaskan coast and launched an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The interceptor missile successfully destroyed the intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a first-of-its-kind test, ie, Ground-based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system. It is like to hit a bullet with another bullet.
The demise of the ABM Treaty encourages other nations including Indian to develop their missile shields. The Missile Shield certainly unleashes a devastating new round of an arms race between/among the strategic competitors. It is because the Missile Shield dents the credibility of the counter-strike capability of the deterring state. Therefore, for the sake of deterrence stability, the deterring states would contemplate about multiple striking options including attaching decoys technology with the ballistic missile, developing multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) and advance cruise missiles to enhance credibility of counter-strike capability.
Currently, Trump Administration is contemplating to terminate the 1987 INF Treaty. Indeed, it is landmark arms control Treaty. It required the destruction of the Parties’ ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (310 to 3,415 miles), their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment within three years after the Treaty entered into force. In compliance with the Treaty, both sides destroyed 2,692 missiles, which were deployed in Europe. Therefore, European leaders support the continuity of the INF Treaty. Ms. Federica Mogherini, a spokeswoman for the EU foreign policy chief, stated: “The INF contributed to the end of the cold war and constituted a pillar of European security architecture since it entered into force 30 years ago.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US are concerned about the increasing missile capability of China. In recent years the balance of power in Asia has begun to shift in the advantage of China due to its military buildup. It has become more assertive in the region, claiming contested territory in the South China Sea. The NATO and US plea that China ought to be a party of missile control regime. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg had urged Beijing to join an international nuclear arms control treaty. On 13 November 2018, he said: “We see that China is investing heavily in new, modern weapons, including new missiles. Moreover, half of their missiles would violate the INF treaty if China were a signatory.” It reveals that the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty is not ‘just about Russia’s treaty violations but about responding to a Chinese military build-up and Beijing’s growing influence’ in the region.
China’s geography and deployed missile systems in East Asia give Chinese officials confidence that the country can outcompete the US in the long run, but a buildup of the new US missiles after the end of INF Treaty increases its strategic skepticism. The US withdrawal from the Treaty is likely to heighten existing tension in the region. The resumption of arms race would be an irritant for the Europeans and Chinese and devastating for the Russians’ economy and tolerable for Trump Administration. To conclude, the United States and Russia tension alarms about the returning of cold war like an arms race between them. The arms race between them could have serious consequences for the global strategic environment.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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