The FINANCIAL — U.S. President Donald Trump says that his decision to withdraw from a decades-old nuclear treaty with Russia was driven not just by Moscow’s alleged violations but by a need to respond to China’s nuclear buildup.
While China was never a party to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), which was negotiated in the waning days of the Cold War by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Trump has insisted that China should be included in the accord, according to RFE/RL.
Trump’s remarks came after his National Security Adviser John Bolton met in Moscow with top Russian officials, who warned that any move by Washington to abandon the treaty would be “dangerous” and would force Moscow to take steps to restore the balance of power.
Bolton is due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the topic on October 23.
Bolton repeated Trump’s argument about China in an interview with the Russian business daily Kommersant published on October 22. He said the White House is concerned both with Russia’s alleged violation of the pact and China’s growing intermediate-range missile capabilities, which he called a “very real threat.”
While Bolton acknowledged it might be unrealistic to expect China to comply with a treaty it never signed, he argued that China’s and North Korea’s development of intermediate-range missiles means that the bilateral treaty with Russia is now outmoded and no longer meets today’s realities.
China on October 22 decried the apparent U.S. attempt to draw Beijing into a first-ever arms negotiation, according to RFE/RL.
Defense analysts say that while Russia and the United States eliminated nearly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles under the treaty, China all the while was building up its capabilities to field the same kinds of weapons.
For the United States, “the situation vis-a-vis China, uninhibited by any agreement, is very different and far more pressing” than that of Russia, said John Lee, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, in a column on CNN’s website on October 22.
Lee estimated that about 95 percent of the missiles in China’s arsenal would violate the INF Treaty if Beijing were a signatory.
Writing in The American Interest, Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. National Security Council senior director for policy development under President Reagan, said that “military competition between China and the United States will obviously be the Pentagon’s top priority in coming years.”
The INF treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.
U.S. officials say Russia has been developing a nuclear-capable missile system known as 9M729 for years in violation of the treaty.
Russia denies the U.S. accusations and claims that some elements of the U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe violate the treaty — a charge that Washington denies.
Russia raised its concerns about possible U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty at the United Nations late on October 22.
Andrei Belousov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, told a UN disarmament committee that a U.S. withdrawal would be “extremely dangerous” and “would prove again that the U.S. political and military authorities obsessively striving to ensure U.S. military superiority over the rest of the world” rather than seeking “peace and stability.”