Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty Current Affairs - 2020

US test-fires Medium-Range Cruise Missile after exiting INF treaty

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) announced successful testing of a medium-range ground-launched cruise missile, just weeks after withdrawing from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a Cold War-era pact with Russia eliminating that class of nuclear-capable weapons.

Key Highlights

The missile was launched from US Navy-controlled San Nicolas Island off the coast of Los Angeles in California.

The test cruise missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) of flight. INF treaty banned development of missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometres.

The missile tested was a version of nuclear-capable Tomahawk cruise missile. The ground-launched version of Tomahawk was removed from service after INF Treaty was ratified.

Although the missile was described as ‘conventionally configured’ by US, which means it is not nuclear-equipped, but the launch was a sign of US increasing its nuclear war-fighting capabilities in wake of the collapse of INF Treaty on 2 August 2019.

Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform DoDs development of future intermediate-range capabilities.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banned all land-based missiles, conventional and nuclear, that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. It worked towards abolishing a class of nuclear arms being deployed by United States and the then-Soviet Union that left Europe most threatened.

Concern:

Many fear that the end of INF, which US accused Russia of having violated in recent years, will lead to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.

In early August 2019 US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper highlighted that since US is no longer bound by INF therefore it had already begun work to develop mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.

Defence secretary stressed that US was not embarking on a new arms race as currently US don’t have plans to build nuclear-tipped INF-range weapons. However US would like to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, a move that would likely anger China, which was not party to the INF.

US to pull out of Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed with Russia

United States (US) President Donald Trump has announced that US will unilaterally pull out of three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty signed with Russia during Cold War.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty

It was crucial Cold War-era treaty banning development, testing and possession of short and medium range ground-launched nuclear missiles with range of 500-5,000 km. The treaty was signed in December 1987 between then US President Ronald Reagan and his USSR counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev.

The treaty banned all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 km or (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 km (intermediate-range). This treaty was central to ending arms race between two superpowers during cold war and protected America’s NATO allies in Europe from Soviet missile attacks. It was designed to provide measure of some strategic stability on continent of Europe.

Reasons of US withdrawal

US President Trump has alleged that Russia has violated treaty and has been violating it for many years. This violation comes after Russia’s alleged development and deployment of Novator 9M729 missile (also known as SSC-8), that could strike Europe at short notice.

Accusations of Russia violating this treaty pre-dates Trump presidency and go back to 2008 during President Obama administration. Under former President Barack Obama raised issue of Russia testing ground-launched cruise missile with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014. But Russia had denied allegations and raised counter-allegations of the US installing missile defence systems in Europe. While two countries failed to find resolution using dispute resolution mechanism in treaty, US continued to remain party to treaty under pressure from its European allies.

Implications

The unilateral withdrawal from this treaty will allow US new nuclear weapon options in Pacific in its efforts to counter China’s growing influence. There are also concerns that unilateral termination of this treaty could mark beginning of new arms race between US and Russia.