The announcement by President D. Trump of the intention to withdraw the United States from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty), which was made at the end of December last year, continues to be on the list of world political events of paramount importance. The INF Treaty was signed in December 1987 (entered into force six months later) by the leaders of the United States and the USSR, which means that the document is bilateral in nature.
It is this fact that today turns out to be its main flaw, which could be treated conditionally tolerantly in the first few years after signing. At that time about 90% of the nuclear missile potential accumulated in the world was concentrated in the United States and the USSR. The remaining 10% (of France, Great Britain and China) could be considered a “small quantity”, which was neglected when considering the problem of maintaining stability between the two leading world powers, and, consequently, in the world as a whole.
However, over the next two to three decades, the political map of the world changed in such a radical way that the above “assumption” ceased to be correct. First, for the United States, in place of the former main geopolitical opponent (USSR), a new one in modern China emerges in an increasingly definite way. One of the main means of delivery of China’s nuclear ammunition is missiles of medium and smaller radius of action, which are not subject to the action of the US-Russian (since 1991) INF Treaty.
Secondly (and to some extent due to the first), the geographic center of the US confrontation considering the new global opponent is now in the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR), and not in the Euro-Atlantic, as was the case during the times of the American-Soviet confrontation. Both the previous and current American presidents spoke about the priority role for the US of the IPR.
Thirdly, in the IPR itself there now are two new de facto nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, for which medium and short-range missiles are also one of the main means of delivery of nuclear ammunition. In addition, Israel can, with a high probability, be added to these countries.
Thus, to date, at least four countries do not fall under the INF Treaty (France and Great Britain, apparently, do without this class of missiles).
Obviously attempts to attract them to the (hypothetical) process of “modernization” of the INF Treaty of 1987 are doomed to failure, because each of them has its own motivation to possess this kind of weapon, which has nothing to do with the motives that prompted the treaty to be made 30 years ago.
In addition, the INF Treaty was only one of the elements of the contractual system, more or less ensuring the maintenance of strategic stability in relations between the two leading world powers of that period. No such systems exist in the pairs such as India-Pakistan, China-India, USA-China and in the IPR as a whole.
Of these pairs, the latter is, as mentioned, of particular importance today. The logic of confrontation with the new global opponent forces Washington to, firstly, play a more active role in the IPR areas critically important for China (for example, in the South China Sea and Taiwan), and, secondly, use the entire disposable arsenal of nuclear missile deterrence to stop China at the confines of “forward presence”.
Today, this arsenal is mainly focused on the sea (on destroyers of the Arleigh Burke class and on parts of nuclear submarines converted to cruise missiles), as well as on air carriers of the same cruise missiles. It is these sea and air carriers that increasingly move in on the space adjacent to the People’s Republic of China.
But the placement (hypothetical as it may be for now) of medium-range ground-based missiles would not be redundant. Especially since there is a good excuse for this: China has not limited itself to the action of the INF Treaty.
It is still unclear where in Asia Washington would be able to place its future Pershing missiles with new modifications. China’s neighbors, such as India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and even Japan and Vietnam are highly unlikely to agree on this in the near future.
In any case, Japan is already expressing concern about the negative consequences for the situation in the region due to the suspension of the INF Treaty, officially announced on February 2 of this year, on behalf of both parties to the Treaty.
But everything in our world is changing. Especially if one helps these changes take place in the “right” direction.
The above does not mean that the US-initiated suspension of the INF Treaty does not affect the second party to this Treaty. However, from the author’s point of view, the possible negative consequences of this act of Washington for the problems of ensuring the security of the Russian Federation are, rather, a side effect.
It is quite possible that the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty is one of several tools used in recent years against Russia to force it into the confrontation between Washington and Beijing. These include economic sanctions, as well as the creation of a belt of expendable hostile Border States, acting as pawns, along Russia’s western borders.
By the way, the very existence of these pawns is intended to help solve another important task related to preventing the creation of a strategic alliance between Russia and Germany.
Be that as it may, Russia’s reaction to the possible prospect of the emergence of a new (more precisely, restoration of an old) element in the list of nuclear-missile attack means requires a preliminary, comprehensive review by building and analyzing obviously complex mathematical models of more or less real scenarios.
At a basic level of reasoning a fundamentally new moment may not be so much an increase in the quantitative characteristics of the means of potential attack (which now due to the number of cruise missiles that can be simultaneously launched towards Russia from the sea and the air, would be in the thousands), but a sharp reduction in reaction time to it.
In this case, the main component of countermeasures may even be not so much the enhancement of the “defense-attack” potential, as the removal of the control systems of the country’s vital organs (first of all, the armed forces) from within the reach of the new means of attack. In this regard, the recurring idea of moving the capital of the Russian Federation to beyond the Ural Range may acquire new urgency.
A decisive step of this kind would correspond to an equally decisive reversal of the course of the state ship as a whole. Real life is increasingly moving from Euro-Atlantic to the IPR and it is there that Russia, two thirds of whose territory is in Asia, must find its place.
This does not, of course, exclude the possibility of maintaining and developing relations with those member countries of the “West” (in general, more and more toxic for Russia) who wish it.
So far, however, the situation with both the INF Treaty and all the issues and problems that accompany this Treaty remains unclear. It seems, therefore, that there is some kind of temporary pause which allows withholding any costly countermeasures, instead focusing on thorough analytical work.
It is, however, worth dealing with regardless of the current political climate.
Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”