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Trumpís withdrawal from the INF treaty could signal a new nuclear arms race

By Glen Anderson and Blake Pepper - posted Thursday, 15 November 2018

It is estimated that there are 16,300 nuclear weapons spread between the United States (US), Russia, the United Kingdom (UK), France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Of this stockpile, 93 percent are thought to be concentrated in the hands of the US and Russia (approximately 6800 and 7000 weapons respectively).

In October 2018 US President Donald Trumpdeclared that Washington would be withdrawingfrom the US-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Since its inception in 1987, the agreement has eliminated over 2600 ground based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5500 kms.

Trump's decision to withdraw was apparently prompted after a yearlong dispute with Moscow over its development of a new ground launched cruise missile – the Novator 9M729.


It may also be partly driven by John Bolton's appointment as National Security Advisor in April 2018. Bolton, who has a reputation as a hard-line negotiator and a devout realist, is rumoured to have opposed the agreement's continuation.

Not surprisingly, Trump's allies within the European Union and Japan have criticised the decision to withdraw, fearing that it could lead to a new nuclear arms race.

As one commentator has adroitly observed:

Trump's decision, if implemented, fires a starting gun in a second-phase global arms race that could be even more frightening than the two-sided superpower contest that halted when the Soviet Union imploded. The world has changed since 1991. This time around, the race could be many dimensional and multipolar, making it harder to contain. This time, the threat of mutual annihilation will be replaced by multilateral assured destruction…

This being said, Moscow's rhetoric appears to indicate that it too is amenable to scrapping the INF Treaty.

Russia has recently developed a new intercontinental missile: the SS-X-30 Satan 2. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a media presentation delivered at the 2018 State of the Nation address in Moscow, boasted, "[n]o kind of, not even future missile defense systems will offer any trouble to the Russian rocket complex." He also claimed the weapon was "invincible" against missile defense systems.


White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded:

President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied: Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations.

Other states have also been advancing their nuclear capabilities.

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About the Authors

Glen Anderson is a lecturer in law at the University of Newcastle. Dr Anderson researches and teaches in the areas of international law, equity, company and property law. He has formerly taught Australian and international politics.

Blake Pepper is a graduate in Law and Commerce from the University of Newcastle.

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