NATO´s “Co-Ordinated Response“ – the Road to a New INF Treaty?

In July 2019, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said not all, but most NATO allies believe Russia has been violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty for years. Since as early as 2014, Russia and the US have been accusing each other of breaching the INF Treaty. Russia has been accused by the US of “already producing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles within the banned range limits of 500km and 5,500km and could deploy them widely, in Europe and in the east along the Chinese border, at short notice.“ Therefore, the US and NATO expected Russia to move “back into compliance“. The INF treaty, which Stoltenberg called “the cornerstone of arms control“ banned ground-based nuclear missiles – those launched from air or sea are not included. According to Stoltenberg, Russia will continue “to deploy ground-based nuclear missiles capable of reaching European cities in minutes“ after the INF treaty expires on August 2, 2019. 

Nevertheless, NATO has the following options, he said: “The alliance would strengthen the already existing European missile defence system and continue to pursue arms control treaties.” Thus, NATO plans no deployment of new missiles in Europe. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Russia and the US should urgently renegotiate new upper limits on strategic nuclear weapons: “Otherwise we could see a domino effect.“ At the 2019 Munich Security Conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited China to join Russia and the US in further INF negotiations and therefore help prevent a new arms race. China rejected this proposal. As Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi stated, “China develops its capabilities strictly according to its defensive needs, and doesn´t pose a threat to anybody else. So we are opposed to the multilateralisation of the INF.” Under such circumstances, can a new INF Treaty ever be negotiated? 

US officials have already explained that the major reason for the withdrawal ”is to contest China´s growing military power and assertiveness.” The US therefore would need to deploy conventional ground-based, intermediate-range missile systems (GBIRs) against China, systems that the INF treaty prohibits from fielding. According to US officials, as much as 90 percent of China´s ballistic and cruise missile arsenal falls in the range prohibited by the INF treaty. The main question rests with politicians and diplomats of great powers: if their countries can steer clear of arms control arrangements in the future. 

For China to join a new INF Treaty, the cost would be great. China has already invested a huge amount of money into short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, to strengthen its anti-access/area denial strategy within the so-called first island chain linking the East China with the South China Sea. China therefore does not intend to reduce this kind of arsenal. Such a reduction could weaken China’s overall defence plans in Asia. 

A new INF Treaty would also have to include Taiwan´s short and intermediate-range projectiles: its Hsiung Feng IIE land-attack cruise missile has a range of 600 km. Taiwan is also producing the Hsiung Feng IIER, variant); this projectile can hit a target as far as 1,250km away. Regarding Taiwan as a renegade province, mainland China will never agree to sit with counterparts from Taipei at the same table to discuss a new INF Treaty. Such negotiations would be tantamount to diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Thus, China can never be part of such a treaty. Possibilities to carry on negotiations on a “new INF“ shall not be excluded politically at the outset, although it remains obvious that such a new arms control treaty will only affect Russia and the US. China (including Taiwan), India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran would reject such negotiations, given their strategic environment and interests. 

After the INF Treaty: Unwritten Laws Instead of Agreements?
Timofei Bordachev
August 2 is the expiry date of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, one of the most important agreements of Cold War and later a pillar of world order for all supporters of multilateral governance and nuclear arms reductions.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.