United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at the Security Council stakeout at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Image Credit: Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed his “deep regret” that the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia came to an end. In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the UN chief recalled that he had “consistently called on both the United States and Russian Federation to resolve their differences through the consultation mechanisms provided for in the Treaty and regrets they have been unable to do so”.

In 1987, US and Soviet Union leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF treaty to eliminate land-based nuclear missiles and medium-range arsenals from Europe. Guterres noted that “in the current deteriorating international security environment, previously-agreed arms control and disarmament agreements are increasingly under threat”. Since its entry-into-force on June 1, 1988, the Cold War-era arms control contributed tangibly to the maintenance of peace and stability internationally and especially in Europe, playing an important role in reducing risk, building confidence and helping to bring the Cold War to an end. According to news reports, both sides walked away from the pact, each blaming the other for its demise and triggering fears of a new arms race. “The Secretary-General emphasises the need to avoid destabilising developments and urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control”, the statement said. Guterres calls on Russia and the US “to extend New START and to undertake negotiations on further arms control measures”, it concluded.

Nato’s support

Meanwhile, Nato repeated its support for the United States’ decision to abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement Friday and said it would respond in a “measured and responsible way” to a deployment of missiles by Moscow that violated the pact.

“Russia bears sole responsibility for the demise of the treaty,” the alliance said in a statement, repeating accusations that Russia had long been out of compliance by deploying medium-range missiles with both conventional and nuclear capability. Russia denies breaching the pact.

“There are no new Nato missiles in Europe, but there are many, many, many new Russian missiles,” Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, said at a news conference. “We don’t want a new arms race, and we have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.”

Washington has for six years accused Russia of developing a new type of missile, the 9M729, also known as the SSC-8, which it says violates the treaty. The missile has a range estimated to be about 900 miles, although Moscow says it can travel only about 300 miles.

While blaming Russia, the United States has cited a threat from China, which was not a signatory to the treaty, as another reason for abandoning the pact. A large percentage of Chinese missiles are of intermediate range, and Washington plans to start testing a new class of intermediate-range missiles this summer that are intended to counter China.

But the abandonment of the pact leaves Europe exposed to Russian land-based missiles capable of hitting their targets within minutes — exactly the vulnerability that led to the treaty in the first place, after the United States started deploying Pershing II missiles in Europe in the early 1980s to counter Soviet SS-20s. The US deployments caused huge public protests in Western Europe and explain why Nato’s 29 countries do not want to go through the experience again.

“We must prepare for a world without the INF Treaty, which will be less stable for all of us,” Stoltenberg said in July.

With the loss of the treaty, “Europe loses a central pillar of its security,” Christian Molling and Heinrich Brauss of the German Council on Foreign Relations wrote in a recent paper. “Russia’s threat potential rises due to its intermediate-range missiles,” which “could split Nato into two zones of security and lead Moscow to assume it holds escalation dominance.”

Russia’s new missiles are land-based, mobile, difficult to identify, rapidly employable and armed with conventional or nuclear warheads, and can strike almost any target in most European countries with little to no warning time, Molling and Brauss wrote.

“This potential could therefore considerably restrict Nato’s operational freedom of action in a conflict,” they wrote, and “as a result, Nato’s general ability to defend itself could be seriously compromised.”

How to deter Russia and balance its missile deployments is a problem that Nato has been discussing for months.

Part of the answer is existing missiles based on ships or fired from aeroplanes, which were never covered by the INF treaty. The accord banned land-based missiles that can travel 310 to 3,417 miles and said they were to be destroyed.

At the end of June, Stoltenberg described “potential Nato measures,” including further military exercises involving intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance and “closer examination” of existing air and missile defences and conventional capabilities. “We will ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective,” he said.

On Friday, the Nato statement said blandly that the alliance had “agreed a balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures to ensure Nato’s deterrence and defence posture remains credible and effective.”

The issue is expected to be central to Nato’s next summit meeting, scheduled for London in early December. Responses are likely to include an enhancement of missile defences against ballistic and intermediate-range missiles, although some Nato members, like Germany, may be reluctant to have systems so directly aimed at countering Russia, argues Katarzyna Kubiak, an analyst with the European Leadership Network.

“While Nato’s military-defensive response to the new post-INF threat is legitimate, it is only a superficial ‘patch and mend’ to a major problem: a growing crisis in the Euro-Atlantic amid global geopolitical shifts,” she wrote in a briefing paper.

“Military remedies will only put off solving critical issues between Nato and Russia, deferring to a later point,” she added, “and most likely contributing to a costly and potentially dangerous arms build-up in the meantime.”