Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow would be forced to respond if the US withdraws from the INF Treaty. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington will give Russia 60 days to comply with the INF treaty or it would unilaterally pull out of the accord. Moscow maintains full compliance with the treaty.
Sputnik discussed the future of the INF Treaty with Alexander Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.
Sputnik: Following the NATO meeting between the alliance it was announced that there is support for the US stance to pull out of the INF treaty. What are your thoughts on whether this would be beneficial to the US or NATO?
Alexander Gillespie: It's beneficial to no one that this treaty falls over. This treaty was a milestone in breaking the Cold War and building a degree of confidence and trust between the opposing sides. If this treaty falls over, we're going to go back decades in terms of arms control.
Sputnik: You have said previously that Russia's alleged violation doesn't fully legitimize Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal. Can you please elaborate on that?
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The treaty has a number of mechanisms within it whereby you can ensure verification and compliance. If there's a concern, they should use the existing mechanisms within the treaty. Russia should that prove that it is in compliance and the Americans should work with them to make sure that they are happy at the same time. They shouldn't just assume a breach and therefore negate the treaty.
Sputnik: I've talked to other experts precisely about this mechanism; has it ever been used before, successfully?
Alexander Gillespie: The essence of the mechanism was one to build trust between the nations, whereby you could go into a number of listed sites and inspect the sites to make sure that both sides were in full compliance.
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In this situation, you would need to take a further step. Russia would need to volunteer the missile in dispute, prove that it's legitimate, and the Americans would also need to answer the questions that Russia have on their end as well, that with their missile systems, that they too are legitimate, both sides have complaints. But it may be that both sides are using it as a reason to both back away from the agreement.
Sputnik: Do you think that Russia is just as interested in backing out of the agreement as the US?
Part of the problem is that the agreement, when it was made in 1987, only dealt effectively with the Soviet Union and the NATO countries; and while that made sense at the end of the 20th century, in the 21st century a lot of other countries have now developed the weapons that have been banned between America, NATO and Russia, and its allies as well. So both countries, both Russia and America, may have interest in developing these weapons again, because other countries like China have probably developed them.
Sputnik: And yet there are a lot of consequences; this has been really, as you mentioned earlier, a pillar of post-Cold War diplomacy. What are some of the ramifications that we can expect? What's going to happen if this crumbles?
The worst case scenario is that this may act as a catalyst for the withdrawal from other nuclear control agreements, especially those between Russia and America. In terms of the immediate situation, the worst case situation is that countries that feel threatened will develop the weapons and then redeploy them. In an instant we will go back into a cold war situation, where we were in the 1980s.
Sputnik: Yet there are voices in the US, on Capitol Hill, that are against leaving the treaty: Democratic Senators Warner, Reed, Menendez actually said that quitting the accord unilaterally would be "a political and geostrategic gift to Russia", and they went on to say that "this would allow it to expand production and deployment of missiles that the treaty sought to constrain". I'm imagining that it would also allow the US to do so. Where do you think we're going to see more of this expansion of production and deployment, on which side?
Alexander Gillespie: To create a new generation of land-based intermediate-range missiles would take a couple of years, it wouldn't happen quickly. So it would be a slowly evolving process. And even though both sides say, at the moment, that they've got no interest in deployment, if either side felt the military advantage in deploying something which was legal, it would make sense for them to do it, and then you would expect a quid pro quo situation.
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The risk is not so much these missiles, it's the undermining of the overall architecture which controls nuclear weapons. We saw the problem begin in 2002, when America withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the development of the missile shield. This is another removal of part of the framework which keeps most of the international community safe.
Sputnik: And yet, Trump and Pompeo are saying it's an outdated agreement, it doesn't really address the rising military threat of China. China has already said they're not interested in striking a similar agreement. How do you strike a balance between the various powers when some are thinking that they are at a disadvantage because they're not allowed to develop certain things that are being developed by other countries, as you also mentioned. Is it possible really to strike a balance? Are Russia and the US greatly disadvantaged because of their adherence?
Currently they're in it and they've got that 60-day process they're working through now. In many ways, it's not a military disadvantage, it's a political loss that we're looking at right now; because even if a country doesn't develop this particular nuclear weapon, they still have a large amount of other sea-based cruise missiles or intercontinental based missiles. They don't lose their nuclear defence force. But if Russia and America walk away from the INF Treaty, they're creating a situation of a lack of trust at a time when we need to be working closer together to make sure these mistakes don't happen.
The ramifications to my mind are that there's going to be anxiety in Europe, because you're going to go back to a situation where countries will develop and deploy, and then countries will be looking for reasons to back away from other agreements. The biggest fear I have is that the next one to fall could be the agreement made with Obama in 2012, and the overall framework would begin to fall apart.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Alexander Gillespie and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.Sputnik