INF, “the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty”, was initially signed between Russia and USA in 1987. The treaty sought to demolish a whole category of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons; the ground launched ballistic and cruise missiles whose range varies between 500 to 5500 km. Eventually, both U.S. and Soviet Union demolished 2692 ground operative ballistic missiles.
After approximately 23 years, in 2014, US allegedly held Russia accountable of its violation of the treaty, the “not to possess, produce, or flight test… and not to produce launchers of ground missiles” clause. After repeated allegations, by February’19, President Trump decided to exit this treaty, mainly due to two reasons; the Russian non-compliance to the treaty and the threats from China’s growing intermediate-range missile arsenal. In response, Russia also withdrew from INF treaty.
China’s Response to US Withdrawal
U.S. immediately tried expanding the accord to include China to the treaty and restrict its growing ballistic missile arsenal, meanwhile, China opposed both US withdrawal and its intentions to extend the accord. According to China’s foreign military spokesperson, “making an issue out of China on withdrawing from the treaty is totally wrong.”
It should be kept in mind that China since mid-1990’s developed its huge arsenal of more than 2000 ground launched ballistic missiles, specifically, for its military strategy to counter U.S. forces if a regional conflict breaks out and USA tries to interfere, such as a territorial conflict in Taiwan or at any of its claimed islands in East and South China Seas. Chinese believe that U.S. withdrawal from the treaty poses threat to the regional and strategic stability as U.S. would now possess a more aggressive nuclear policy. It could now be expected that U.S. would deploy land based ballistic missiles in East Asia which were fortunately banned under the INF Treaty.
Policy Implications for China
- Foreign Policy Implications;
China, after the withdrawal of U.S. from INF treaty, should work on strengthening its alliances with countries of East Asia, especially Japan and South Korea. Because it can be very well predicted that Japan, being a US ally, would be pressurized and hence allow U.S. missiles on its bases to deter China. Such an alliance can only be diplomatically countered on the basis of mutual interests. The ultimate goal should be to keep U.S. interference out of Asia.
Other than that, levels of transparency should be maintained in foreign policy decisions, because high number of missiles, which can be armed with both conventional and nuclear explosives can create doubts, thus contributing to the risk of escalation in a military conflict.
- Defense Policy & Military Up gradation;
China can respond to such a withdrawal through its military capability up gradation; ensuring the survivability of its nuclear weapons, achieving command and control over modern ICBMs, introducing the use MIRVs, and by constructing and deploying advance nuclear submarines. Besides these, China can indulge in cyber weapons to suppress US command, communication and control systems.
China now must start working for the effective and efficient development of its nuclear triad, as its SSBNs, the ballistic missile submarines are not any competition to the U.S. ones.
- Economic/ Trade Policy Implication;
China is already growing to be a regional hegemon through both its hard and soft power capabilities. It is now in its best interest to expand its economic ties and invest in its foreign trade rather than in expanding its military arsenal, because China already has enough military capability to deter US. Furthermore, by withdrawing from INF, U.S. has only contributed in the quantitative increase of missiles and not qualitative, as US already had its sea and air missile deployed in the Asian region which are certainly more effective than ground ones.
There is also a high chance that by extending trade incentives to Japan and South Korea, China can diplomatically persuade them into not giving U.S. the access to their strategic bases. Japan had already opposed to U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, and according to its traditions, local governments have a say in foreign decision-making process, which of course are made through public consent, and it is noted that public sentiments in Japan are against the deployment of U.S. missiles into Japan’s territory.
In case of South Korea, it already has faced China’s economic and diplomatic sanctions of around $7 billion due to the deployment of US THAAD against North Korea, and now it wouldn’t want the same by allowing U.S. the access again to their strategic bases, this time directly targeting China.
It can be argued that U.S. withdrawal from the treaty was biased, and its plans for deployment of ground-based cruise missiles into Asian region are provocative, which can certainly destabilize the balance of the region, cause military confrontation between both the US and China, which can have high chances of escalation and can also certainly initiate an arms race.
It would be in better interest of super power states to diplomatically negotiate such matters and come up with an extended version of INF Treaty in order to contribute for the better cause of arms control and eventually disarmament.