The INF’s demise is an opportunity in disguise

The INF’s demise is an opportunity in disguise

It’s official: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is no more, and people are worried.

On Friday (local time) United States President Donald Trump announced his administration was suspending the INF Treaty, prompting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to do the same.

In effect, the US and Russia are now free to develop and deploy land-based, nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 500–5,500km.

This definitely isn’t a good thing, but it isn’t as bad as one might think.

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by former US President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

Although hailed as a landmark agreement, both Moscow and Washington accused each other of violating the treaty over the 31 years it was in force.

Realistically, there are only a handful of people who know whether the accusations and counter-accusations are true. Nevertheless, it does suggest — and human nature dictates — that both parties did, at some point, violate the treaty.

Yet the treaty prevailed, providing a sense of comfort for those who lived under the doom and gloom of the Cold War.

The simple truth is that by 2019 the INF Treaty had become outdated.

Firstly, weaponry advanced significantly since 1987, which the treaty didn’t take into account and which allowed for loopholes.

Secondly, the agreement only banned land-based missiles, meaning ships could still carry missiles otherwise prohibited under the INF Treaty.

Thirdly, it was a bilateral agreement between Washington and Moscow which only restricted the US and Russia. Other nuclear powers remained free to develop and deploy whatever missiles they wanted.

More than anything, the INF Treaty was a symbolic agreement that represented the willingness of two superpowers to curb their strength for the greater good of humanity, despite their differences.

The treaty’s end also marks the continued erosion of US-Russia cooperation, with outer space probably now being the only major joint effort left.

And yes, given the proxy conflicts embedded in the Syrian and Ukrainian civil wars, and Venezuela shaping up to be another geopolitical hotbed, the abandonment of the INF Treaty is hardly a welcome development — even if it was only symbolic of cooperation.

But it doesn’t mean that suddenly the US and Russia will start flinging missiles at each other.

If anything, it provides a unique opportunity for the two superpowers to show genuine leadership and develop a new, comprehensive agreement that can be applied to all and can change with the times.