Nuclear Arms Race is Back On! America Aims to Trash INF Treaty, Proliferation Now the Future
And now, our interview with the senior researcher of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the HSE, Vasily Kashin. He was interviewed by my colleague, Evelina Zakamskaya.
INF Interview, with Vasily Kashin
— Greetings, Mr. Kashin. Thank you for finding the time to come here to comment on the situation with the INF Treaty and its possible termination. We know that there are two parties of the treaty, Russia and the United States. However, the United States has repeatedly stated that it's not satisfied with the treaty because of China. We're curious about China's position on that issue since it's quite important. We must keep an eye on our neighbor's actions, considering China has already expressed its attitude towards the termination of the treaty claiming that the termination will have a negative effect. Some Chinese senior officials have even called it Pandora's Box.
Vasily Kashin, political scientist: Right. China is not a party to that treaty. It has been refusing to engage in any kind of dialogue regarding its possible accession to the treaty. In general, China's position on arms control comes down to China having a limited nuclear arsenal that's not even comparable to the capabilities of Russia and the United States. Only after the two superpowers shrink their arsenals to a comparable level will China engage in dialogue regarding its strategic potential. It must be noted that intermediate-range missiles have been the core of China's military power for many years.
— So they were expanding while we were shrinking?
— Right. The thing is, China's short- and intermediate range missiles controlled by the Chinese Missile Forces are primarily conventional. China has been focusing on creating a wide spectrum of high-precision conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,500 miles. In case of an armed conflict with the United States, those missiles allow China to deliver a guaranteed devastating blow against the American infrastructure in the Asian-Pacific region. And that's the force the Americans have to put up with for the time being because all existing anti-missile systems are too limited and too expensive. According to a number of assessments, China has more than 2,000 such missiles.
— Do you mean short- and intermediate-range missiles that can theoretically reach the United States' military infrastructure? The first target will probably be the base in Guam.
— Yes, the Guam base. Guam is the furthest point. The American bases in Japan and South Korea are also possible targets as well as the infrastructure of the USA's allies which can be used to support it, including the Japanese infrastructure. Besides, an important part of China's plan is a possible conflict over Taiwan. Which is a part of China's territory but isn't controlled by the Chinese government. And in order to fight for Taiwan they also plan to actively use a lot of short-range missiles. And even lighter operative-tactical systems such as the Dongfeng-11 or Dongfeng-15 missiles, which is the most basic missile of the Chinese arsenal. They consider it to be the basis of everything. It gives them confidence and seriously limits the USA's capabilities to exert pressure against China. Naturally, China wouldn’t want to limit this part of its arsenal.
— It appears that by pulling out of the INF Treaty the United States gets a free hand to deal with China beginning the battle of the giants.
— Right. Several American…
— What will the Americans do?
— Right. Several American military commanders said that such as Commander of the US Pacific Navy, Admiral Harris, who said in 2016 that the treaty was damaging to the United States, as it put the United States in a disadvantageous position in relation to China. If the Americans acquire land-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, either cruise or ballistic, it creates a curious situation in the regional politics since the US has to find a place to build the bases for those missiles. The US has allies in the Asian-Pacific region, but its relationships with them are quite ambiguous China possesses about 2000 DF-11 (600 km) and DF-15 (900 km) missiles; INF applies to them. And there's no NATO-like bloc in Asia upon which it can rely. There are Japan and South Korea, as well as the Philippines and Thailand. But the Philippines and Thailand have been recently distancing themselves from close cooperation with the US, either by focusing on multilateral politics or by falling under China's influence.
Speaking of Japan there's the problem of the negative attitude by its citizens towards the American military presence and its expansion. The problem with the American base in Okinawa is well-known. However, another important aspect is the factor of time. If the Americans begin to actively work on or rather begin the test phase of the formerly secret developments of the intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the full test cycle and preparation for mass production will still take several years. The US has several years to politically motivate the deployment of the missiles. Besides, the US has Guam from where intermediate-range missiles can reach…
— Right, if China can reach Guam, then Guam can obviously reach China. But there's also one aspect important to us: How will Japan react to the expansion of the American presence in the context of its peace treaty negotiations with Russia?
— In its dialogue with Japan, Russia deliberately mentioned the 1960 letter by the USSR Foreign Ministry that said that the military alliance between the US and Japan fundamentally changed the character of the Soviet-Japanese relationship threatening the implementation of certain aspects of the 1956 Declaration. In this case, it's not about the alliance but rather the problem that an American strategic weapon system might appear there that would pose a serious threat to Russia and directly endangers us. Naturally, it will affect the course of the dialogue one way or another and must be taken into account.
— Since the US is pulling out of the INF Treaty do we also get additional advantages and opportunities that we didn't have under the restrictions of the treaty, for example, the deployment of our arms to our eastern borders?
— Well, our Military Command announced the creation of the system of non-nuclear strategic deterrence which was based on cruise missiles, with either airborne or waterborne carriers. Those airborne and waterborne carriers are pretty expensive. We had to build ships to carry the Kalibr missiles and implement the expensive program of upgrading our long-range aviation. Naturally, the production and deployment of land-based cruise missiles might be much cheaper and more efficient. The USSR had a single base in the Far East capable of reaching the continental USA. The base was called Anadyr-1 and housed Pioneer missiles that could theoretically fly to San Francisco. We can't know what our Command is planning this time but it's obvious that if we begin recreating all those weapons that were banned by the INF the consequences might be quite diverse. The Chinese have a negative attitude towards the US withdrawing from the treaty. There might be attempts to reach a limited compromise and slow down the process. They're likely to fail but it's still a major change to the rules of the regional game.
— Your concerns are absolutely legitimate. But could the termination of the treaty also impact the relationship between Russia and China? It's obvious that China won't like that we're reinforcing our defenses at our eastern borders. If I'm not mistaken, China strictly opposed the construction of our bases in Siberia in the 80s.
— Well, look: the American statements, articles by experts, and even the statements by some diplomats betray their desire to use the INF Treaty to drive a wedge between Russia and China. One of their goals is to make the Chinese feel that we're ignoring their interests and we're making arrangements behind their backs. But in fact, the Russian position is pretty clear. The United States is terminating the treaty under an artificial excuse. Russia is doing everything it can do in order to save it. The Nuclear Five (Russia, the US, the UK, France, and China) is an informal union of states possessing nuclear arms. Russia and China have a high level of trust in military matters. We have a series of agreements regarding the exchange of defense information and the restriction of the deployment of strike weapons along our border. I believe that there will be dialogue and Russia will deliberately act in a way to prevent fears from arising among the Chinese.
Many Far Eastern countries possess intermediate-range missiles. Apart from China, we can name India and even Taiwan. Taiwan has intermediate-range cruise missiles capable of reaching the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing. North Korea has them. South Korea has missiles with a range of up to 500 miles. It has the Americans' permission. Japan sometimes considers the matter. The Japanese are discussing the creation of assault capabilities. It's not an isolated matter.
— Thank you so much! It's obvious that the nuclear club is getting a little too crowded. In the 21st century, the non-nuclear future becomes the responsibility of many states instead of only two. Thank you.
Vasily Kashin was a guest of our program Opinion. Thank you for watching and goodbye.