With Exit From INF Treaty, Trump Eyes Trilateral Nuclear Arms Pact With China, Russia

October 21, 2018 Updated: October 21, 2018

President Donald Trump is suggesting that Washington’s planned exit from a nuclear arms treaty with Russia is meant to bring China to the negotiating table to seal a trilateral deal among the world’s largest nuclear superpowers.

The president told reporters in Nevada on Oct. 20 that the United States will pull out of the decades-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia because Moscow had violated the pact, while China wasn’t bound by it.

“We’ll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us, and China comes to us, and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons.’ But if Russia is doing it and if China is doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Trump said.

President Ronald Reagan signed the INF treaty with the Soviet Union in 1987. The deal mandated the complete destruction of all short- and mid-range ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear-capable, and imposed a total ban on the possession and use of these weapons.

The United States accused Russia in 2014 of violating the treaty by deploying the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile system. For years, Moscow balked at engaging Washington and NATO about the claim, and refused to admit that the missile system in question even existed. Russia changed the narrative only recently, admitting that the missile system exists but argued that the United States has no proof that it violates the treaty.

By December, the Trump administration, which deemed the situation “untenable,” said it would engage in a multifaceted strategy to coerce Russia into compliance with the INF, according to the State Department. Part of that strategy included the jump start of research and development of the missile systems prohibited by the treaty, which stops short of restricting research and development.

The United States maintains that it’s never violated the treaty, although Moscow has made accusations to the contrary. Russia claims that the U.S. missile defense systems, unmanned aerial drones, and ballistic practice-target missiles are all in violation of the treaty. Unlike Moscow’s silence about the SSC-8, Washington has taken meticulous steps to explain how all three of these technologies are in compliance.

In the meantime, China, unconstrained by the pact, has engaged in aggressive missile development. To date, Beijing has developed eight operational nuclear-capable missile systems—with effective ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles—that are prohibited under the INF treaty, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

On Oct. 15, China tested a supersonic “aircraft-carrier killer” missile, an obvious message to Washington, which maintains a 10-to-1 superiority over Beijing in terms of aircraft carriers.

“Russia is the threat of the past; China of the future. Any arms treaty that doesn’t include China is pointless,” said Steven Mosher, an expert on China who has appeared before Congress and authored several books. “Any prospective treaty that involves China should have ironclad verifiability.”

Russian officials and politicians offered a range of responses upon learning that Trump is pulling out of the INF treaty.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova again said that the United States has no proof that the SSC-8 missile system violates the treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin will seek answers from U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who arrived in Moscow for two days of meetings on Oct. 22–23, a Kremlin spokesman said.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who signed the INF treaty in 1987 alongside Reagan, told Interfax it would be a mistake to pull out of the accord. Gorbachev, now 87 years old, said it would undermine all the work he and his U.S. counterparts did to end the Cold War arms race.

“Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?” Gorbachev said.

NATO was quick to blame the Kremlin for Washington’s withdrawal from the treaty, saying that it was “highly likely” that Russia violated the treaty.

“At the NATO summit in July‎, allies stressed that the United States is in compliance with its obligations under the INF treaty, while a pattern of behavior over many years has led to widespread doubts about Russian compliance,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a statement to The Epoch Times.

“Allies have identified a Russian missile system, the [SSC-8], which raises serious concerns. After years of denials and obfuscation, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of the missile system, without providing the necessary transparency and explanation,” Lungescu added. “In the absence of any credible answer from Russia on this new missile, allies believe that the most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation of the INF treaty.”

At the time of the signing in 1987, the INF treaty was the most detailed and stringent nuclear-arms-control treaty in history; the Soviet Union and the United States destroyed 2,692 missiles as a result. While the treaty is of an unlimited duration, its inspection and monitoring provisions concluded in 2001.

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