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Home Articles Flashpoints INF Treate Demise - One more Step Toward Midnight?

INF Treate Demise - One more Step Toward Midnight?

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FRI 2 AUG 2019





The INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) Treaty, signed amid much fanfare in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev, officially ceases to exist as the US pulls out of it, on Friday 2 August.

The INF Treaty, the only nuclear arms control treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons, barred the US and Russia, (but not China, India, Pakistan, Israel, the DPRK, or for that matter the UK and France, all of whom were not signatories) from possessing missiles with ranges between 500Km and 5,500Km.

These were distances particularly relevant to Europe and to Russia, because a Pershing missile located in Germany would have been able to strike Moscow with barely minutes of warning, shortening the fuze for a civilization-ending nuclear war.

The demise of the INF Treaty means that in theory, intermediate range systems could once more be stationed in Europe – indeed, much closer to Moscow, in the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and even in the Baltic's, in the name of 'deterrence'.

All this, should it ever take place (hopefully it will not), would make a nuclear war in Europe once more all too 'thinkable', and would once more shorten decision – making times, making rational decision-making all the less likely.

It would create more 'tripwires' for an escalation to full-scale nuclear war, and make it once again more probable that such a war could start – by madness, malice, miscalculation, malfunction or malware – without anyone planning it or plotting it or wanting it.

Russia already has Iskander tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad whose range just falls within the old INF limits. There are US/NATO tactical nuclear weapons in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Turkey. Both are enough to reduce all of Europe to cinders. Both NATO and Russia have indicated that they are thinking of supplementing these forces with ones whose range is between 500 and 5,500Km.

The INF Treaty is being ditched because the US and NATO say that Russia is in 'blatant' violation of INF Treaty limits on the range of its 9M729 missile. Yet a detailed look at the evidence seems to indicate anything but an 'egregious' violation, and rather one that might maybe be one if looked at by one who really wanted to see a violation. Russia insists that it is not in violation, and argues that the US is in violation. What is clear is that important constituencies in both countries find the INF inconvenient, and want to field nuclear systems that would violate it.

Arms control more broadly is in trouble. The New START Treaty, that limits US and Russian strategic long-range nuclear forces seems unlikely to be either replaced or renewed when it expires in 2021, leaving the US and Russia with no formal treaty limits at all on their nuclear forces.

While it remains possible that there will NOT be either an intermediate-range nuclear arms race in Europe or a strategic one between the US and Russia, the obstacles to an arms race taking place are being progressively removed, and motives are being created – by both sides – for one. An extrapolation of current trends would certainly result in one.

The jettisoning of both the INF and of bilateral US-Russian strategic arms control is precisely the kind of event that would normally make the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists move the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight, representing the probable end of civilization by nuclear war.

The problem is that the Doomsday Clock hands already have nowhere to go – at 2 mins to Midnight, they are as close as they can be while we are all still here.

There is an urgent need for immediate measures both to reduce the risk of nuclear war – of an 'accidental apocalypse' – and to eliminate nuclear weapons completely.

Australia and other countries in similar 'extended deterrence' relationships with the US should sign and ratify the Ban Treaty (TPNW) immediately and urge other similar countries (Japan, Canada, NATO) to do likewise.

And nuclear weapon states should be urged, as a preliminary to the elimination of their nuclear arsenals, to take urgent steps to make the use of nuclear weapons less likely by lowering alert status, adopting policies of no first use, re-establishing military to military 'hotlines', and renouncing provocative and dangerous military exercises, especially with nuclear capable forces.

Above all they should reiterate the joint statement of Reagan and Gorbachev that 'A Nuclear War Cannot be won and must never be fought'.

A strong call for the elimination of nuclear weapons will be made in Sydney on Sat 3 Aug 12 noon with the Hiroshima Day March and rally at the Archibald Fountain. Speakers include Keith Suter.

John Hallam

Joint Convener, Abolition 2000 Working Group on Nuclear Risk Reduction

People for Nuclear Disarmament/Human Survival Project

UN nuclear Disarmament Campaigner

Australian Coordinator, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND)

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Last Updated on Friday, 02 August 2019 10:45