Although I follow what President Trump is trying to persuade us to be his real reason for pulling out of the current long-standing INF nuclear treaty with Russia, it is more than a little worry that we are left to puzzle why he comes across as one who talks as if he is unaware of what most people with a passing interest in such matters would be expected to know. Given his access to advisors it is hard to accept that he simply doesn’t understand the implications of the background to what he now wants America and the rest of us to believe. Alternately perhaps some might hope he is aware of the underlying issues and merely does not consider it is worth bothering the people with the detail. The following details all come from mainstream media (plus one snippet from Huffington Post) If any of my readers want exact references please ask.
First, America already enjoys a nuclear advantage over its next strongest rivals. According to the Federation of American Scientists the US currently have 6,800 nuclear warheads, Russia has 7,000 warheads (but many are smaller than those in the US), the UK has 215 warheads, France 300 warheads, Pakistan 140 warheads, North Korea (estimated 15 warheads) , China 270 warheads, India 130 warheads. (figures quoted in Time Feb 12)
What is now conveniently unstated is that before such current nuclear agreements, eg the now 31 year old INF (Intermediate range Nuclear Forces Treaty) the arms race was dangerously close to breaking point. Some warheads had been lost eg on crashed planes, sunk nuclear submarines and there was even one suspected stolen “suitcase bomb” from a Russian facility. (see my own publication Verification – a Primer) There were too many false alarms and security of nuclear material had become impossible to guarantee. That China were able to test a nuclear weapon before they had the means to produce enough fissile material should worry anyone who can remember Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Even now the traditional tactic of bullying an enemy into submission seems inappropriate when aggravation merely increases the dangers. There is for example the story of Iran which had only won a degree of caution on the part of nations who had previously exploited oil and mineral resources at will when Iran showed signs of getting its own nuclear capability. An imperfect but apparently fairly effective treaty with its adversaries kept the nuclear genie in the bottle – until Mr Trump abruptly took the Iran out of the treaty arrangement and despite protests from the other treaty partners announced a return to sanctions on Iran, together with threats aimed at any nation which did not join in the sanctions. What the US president may have overlooked is that one of Iran’s best friends is Pakistan who in return for oil may well wish to offer a nuclear warhead or two. Certainly nations like Israel used outside help to develop its own nuclear stock pile?
Mr Trump had already announced during his last election campaign that he believed that the best way to lessen the dangers to America would be to increase the lead America already enjoyed in the nuclear deterrent race by modernizing, expanding and advertising its ability to overwhelm and annihilate any potential enemies. The puzzle here is that his advisors should have stressed to him what had gone on before the current treaty arrangements had been signed. A further concern is that no one appears to have told him that just as Russia has gone against the intentions of the INF treaty with its development of some cruise missile developments, a similar concern can be directed to the US if they had been intending to follow through with Mr Trump’s election promises on the modernisation of the US nuclear weaponry.
The US had for example accepted under the terms of the treaty that they should not test any new nukes and until very recently the vast testing ground 90 miles North West of Las Vegas in Nevada has been in stand-down mode. Late last year President Trump had ordered that a short notice nuclear test should be organized to test a new type of nuclear weapon and the White House had specifically stated that this would be for “political purposes” (cf Time February 12)
The President has also signed off on an order for $1.2 trillion to overhaul the entire complex and modernise the weapons. On July 20th 2017 he reprimanded the Pentagon Staff for holding back on plans to increase the nuclear arsenal. Later a set of 64 page draft plans were made public early 2018 which included two new sea launched weapons, one designed for a small atomic warhead suitable for battlefield use and other weapons designed for“first use strategy” . These were released in the public domain in January 2018 by Huffington Post.
More importantly, at least in view of the present statement about Russian failures to abide by the letter of the agreement, on February 12 2018 Time Magazine reported that the February Pentagon budget called for funding of a new missile which if developed and tested would clearly contravene the terms of the current Treaty.
Unfortunately Mr Trump is keeping rather quiet about what appears to be the real reason why the US is uncomfortable with the INF. The problem is that China was not involved in the current treaty and as a consequence, from the US point of view, if the Treaty is not renegotiated to allow for the proposed US nuclear weapons development, China could conceivably get ahead of the US in terms of nuclear technology. Given this serious problem that the US should now suddenly and conveniently notice a long-standing failure on the part of Russia might even at best appear a coincidence!
In any event the Trump Administration statements on Russian violations of the treaty ring a little hollow in view of the current US developments in nuclear weapons technology and delivery systems. Just to take one of many examples, while the Russians have been developing cruise missile technology for delivery of nuclear weapons, the US has been developing a parallel technology of drone delivery. Since drones were not planned or developed at the time of the original Treaty it is hardly surprising their development was not excluded by the Treaty.
If I were part of the US voting public (and I must stress as a New Zealand citizen, I am not)at the very least I might even be asking why the NATO experts and so many of the leaders of the allied nations are asking the US to reconsider the current proposed course of action.