US Withdrawal from INF Treaty and its Implications on China

INF treaty is also known as “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty”. Initially it was a bilateral treaty mainly between US and USSR and entered into force in 1987. The fundamental requirement of this treaty was the dismantling of “Ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with the range of 500-5500 km, their launchers and associated support structure and equipment”.  United States decided to withdraw from the INF Treaty on 2nd February, 2019 cited the non-compliance of Russia and Chinese military expansion especially missile system as the justification. President Trump said “if Russia is doing it, and if china is doing it and we are adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable”. By assessing the china’s aptness of the missiles capability, United States observed the “new strategic reality” and stated that “INF treaty had become a bilateral treaty in a multipolar ballistic missile world”. The US’ withdrawal from the INF treaty under the umbrella of offensive realism, has several implications on china which are given in this paper.


The mammoth “ground-launched missiles” (both conventional and nuclear) has been built by Beijing (approximately 2000 “ballistic and cruise missile” most of them are with the range greater than 5500 km) which is a subject of great concern for US. Such missiles provide deterrence and war-fighting strategies to china against regional powers and US’ military supremacy and to halt the US’ intervention in regional conflicts like Taiwan crisis etc. According to Chinese expert analysts, the main purpose of US’ withdrawal from the INF treaty is to contain china as it is not the part of the treaty and was enjoying the leverage to expand its military and nuclear capabilities. This will make the US’ nuclear policy more aggressive (evident from “NRP 2018”). The aggressive policies of US will compel china to review its policy and transform it from defensive to offensive nuclear policy. This will also affect its “anti-access, area-denial policy (A2/AD)”.


The withdrawal from the INF treaty will slacken the advantage of missile arsenals for china because US will deploy its land based ballistic and cruise missile in the territory of its allies in Asia to deter and contain china and also to maintain its hegemony in Asia too. This is compelling china to build its nuclear triad and expand its military technology because of the action-reaction syndrome. In order to tackle aggressive actions of US china can change its fundamental policy of “No-First Use” into a “No-First Weapon use” (including both conventional and nuclear attacks). The acceleration in the building of missile system in china and deployment of land based ballistic and cruise missiles from US will instigate the arms race and will add up strategic instability in the other crisis i.e Taiwan crisis, Indo-Pacific issues etc.


The US’ deployment of “ballistic and cruise missile” in Asia will elevate the level of insecurity in the Beijing. This feeling of insecurity will compel china to reconsider its “minimum deterrence” policy as it will no more capable to deal with this situation. There is an ample chance that china will convert its “minimum deterrence” policy into the “maximum deterrence/limited deterrence” policy (nuclear weapons play a crucial role in the “nuclear and conventional wars”) which covers all the spectrum of the threats in order to ensure their security. Withdrawal of US also made Russia free from the INF treaty, which will also lead towards the tension between china Russia because military expansion in Asia is reshaping the balance of power in the region. In order to counter china, Russia will also develop its ballistic missiles with the greater range to create its hegemony. This will force china to change its nuclear posture towards Russia too.


The instigation of arms race between the two super will open a gate of vertical proliferation for them because both of them has entangled in the “strategic competition” strategy. This competition will cause great instability in the region and reshape the geo-politics, this will harm the national interest of each other. The economic dependent allies of China may give their territory for the deployment of “ballistic and cruise missiles” which will make the situation more turbulent because both of them are competing for the global hegemony. In order win the competition, both of the state will reshape their nuclear posture and military strategies. The tensions will become deepen globally and balance of power will be reshaped.


The aforementioned situation is very uncertain which is giving the glimpse of the new cold war era which will reshape the new world order. Such a precarious situation can be handled only by the method of arms control through the treaties. United States and china should become a part of treaties which refrain them from arms race and aggressive policies because both of them are nuclear states and escalation in their conflict between them will lead to nuclear war which can end the entire life on earth.

Asma Tanveer
Asma Tanveer
Asma Tanveer is a student of Strategic and Nuclear Studies at National Defence University. She has great interest in international politics, nuclear politics, and strategies of warfare.