Nuclear treaty: Tension between U.S. and Russia over nuclear missiles

Author : James Rodgers

Source :

As relations between the United States and the Soviet Union began to improve in the 1980s, that risk was reduced. High-profile summits were the stages for negotiations to agree cuts to nuclear stockpiles
13:50, 23 October 2018

Associated Press

It was arguably the greatest achievement of the late Cold War years: a warming diplomatic relationship which made possible the treaties which ended decades of nuclear stand-off between East and West. Since the end of World War II left Europe divided between Communism and Capitalism, the fear that ideological enmity might lead -- by accident or design -- to nuclear confrontation made policy-makers and populations alike nervous.

As relations between the United States and the Soviet Union began to improve in the 1980s, that risk was reduced. High-profile summits were the stages for negotiations to agree cuts to nuclear stockpiles. As a TV news producer on his first international assignment, I was in Moscow in the summer of 1991 when President George W. Bush held successful talks with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Four years earlier, Mr Gorbachev had signed another agreement with another President: Ronald Reagan.  The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), as it was known, banned short-range and intermediate-range missiles which the USA and the USSR had based in the countries which were their respective European allies.

Now President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will be pulling out of the treaty. Mr Trump accuses Russia of having breached its terms, a charge that Russia denies. Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has responded by saying that Mr Trump's decision, "can make the world more dangerous."  He further warned that Moscow might find it necessary, 'to restore the balance' -- in other words, go ahead and develop new weapons.

The move comes as President Trump's National Security Advisor, John Bolton, is in Moscow for talks. These were already arranged, but, according to the BBC, Mr Bolton's schedule will now include an additional meeting: with President Vladimir Putin.

Even if the end of the Cold War did mean that the chance of nuclear confrontation was reduced, military actions and policies have tended to lie at the heart of diplomatic rows between Washington and Moscow since the end of the Soviet Union.

U.S plans for a missile defence shield -- parts of which were to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic -- provoked strong opposition from Moscow before the project was scrapped in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

In a sense, the INF treaty is a relic of its time -- negotiated between two Cold War enemies in a very different world. As a number of commentators have pointed out, China -- growing in economic power, military might, and diplomatic ambition -- is not a signatory.

Still, in a world where relations between the big powers are not easy to predict, there are many observers who feel that it would be better to keep the INF than to abandon it. Writing in The Times of London, the author and Russia commentator Edward Lucas -- a staunch critic of the current Russian administration -- called Mr Trump's decision "a particularly big mistake".

For all President Trump and President Putin seemed to have a warm personal rapport when they met in Finland in July, Mr Trump's presidency has been marked by a number of serious rows with Russia -- resulting in diplomatic expulsions; sanctions; and even criminal charges over alleged conspiracy to meddle in U.S. elections. A further confrontation over nuclear weapons does not bode well.

Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the signatories of the pact the future of which is now in doubt, has criticized Mr Trump's announcement as not coming "from a great mind". Those Russian leaders currently in office will perhaps be more diplomatic both in public and in private.

A generation of may now have grown up with no memory of the Cold War -- but the continent which was divided by the superpowers is looking on. As Maja Kocijancic, European Union spokeswoman on foreign and security policy put it, in remarks reported by Reuters, "The world doesn't need a new arms race."

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