The security situation is tighter than ever, and the U.S. is mainly to blame, explains Peter Kuznick of the U.S. Institute for Nuclear Studies.
Easily makes it to Berlin: the Iskander-K short-range missile is not covered by the INF Treaty – test in Russia, 2017 Photo: Russian Defense Ministry, ap
site: Why does Donald Trump want to end the INF treaty on medium-range intermediate-range missiles?
Peter Kuznick: We have an atmosphere of distrust against Russia. That gives him the backing of both parties. Republicans view arms control as restrictions on American sovereignty. And even Democrats, who actually criticize withdrawal from the INF agreement, are currently so Russophobic that the majority of the American people see it as legitimate for Trump to do that. For Trump, the retreat thus serves several purposes: it distracts from the other crises and it allows him to make a move without triggering controversy.
Given Russian interference in the U.S. election campaign, the Democrats’ stridency is understandable.
There are Democrats who see Russian interference as the reason Hillary Clinton lost the election. But first, the U.S. has regularly interfered in elections in other nations for more than 70 years. And second, the extent of Russian interference has been completely exaggerated. Clinton was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign and was more aggressive on foreign policy than Donald Trump.
The first reaction from Moscow to Trump’s announcement was relief. Motto: Now we can develop new optical weapons and new long-range missiles. It sounds like Trump did Putin a favor.
Putin has been talking about the INF Treaty being obsolete for more than 15 years, and he criticizes much that Gorbachev did. The 1987 INF Treaty favored the United States. It banned the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe, but it did nothing about air- and sea-launched missiles, where the U.S. was superior.
Why is the U.S. now abandoning a treaty that favored it?
Because the "unipolar moment" – or as of 2002, the "unipolar era" – has ended. After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Dick Cheney (vice president under George W. Bush; ed.) and Paul Wolfowitz (his adviser; ed.) considered the U.S. a world hegemon. They felt strong. But then the U.S. invaded Iraq, and all hell broke loose.
71, is professor of history and director of the Institute for Nuclear Studies at American University in Washington, DC. Among numerous other publications on 20th century history, the Cold War, and the nuclear arms race, he is co-author of Untold History of the United States.
How do you describe the present moment?
The world has become more complicated. China may have only 280 nuclear weapons today – not much compared to the more than 6,000 each in the United States and Russia. But China is getting stronger. It has the world’s largest navy, has asserted control over the South China Sea, and has control over large parts of the East China Sea. And 95 percent of China’s missiles fall within the range prohibited by the INF Treaty. We’re at a multipolar moment where the U.S. is being challenged militarily by Russia and economically and, to some extent, militarily by China.
Does Trump have leverage with China?
The Chinese proposed a global policy against first strikes. And they did not want weaponization of space. But the U.S. blocked these proposals in the UN. If the U.S. were ready for broader, universal disarmament, the Chinese might go along with it and accept limitations on their missiles. But if China doesn’t, India won’t. If India doesn’t do it, Pakistan won’t do it. And so on.
So what does that lead to?
It creates nuclear anarchy.
Who has an interest in nuclear anarchy?
John Bolton (White House National Security Advisor; ed.), Trump and their allies believe they can win the arms race. Trump believes he is able to outspend Russia, China, and everyone else with higher arms spending. Ronald Reagan meant exactly the same thing. When Gorbachev returned from the 1986 meeting in ReykjavIk, he complained about the caveman mentality of the Americans. And about their idea of pushing the Soviet Union into an arms race in which they could not compete.
Well, that worked out.
It was unsustainable that 25 percent or more of GDP went into military spending. But this policy is still very dangerous and very destabilizing.
Already under Obama, the U.S. has embarked on a nuclear modernization that will cost well over a trillion dollars. Now Trump is paving the way for a new arms race with Russia. But there is hardly any public discussion in the U.S. about the sense of these momentous decisions. Why?
A man of vision: Donald Trump is sure Russia has evil intentions Photo: reuters
Welcome to America. It’s all about the governor of Virginia or migrants at the southern border. But not about the INF or the new Cold War. The Americans are living in a state alienated from reality. This started back in 1985, when bilateral relations with the Soviet Union began to improve.
How do you explain that?
When it comes to foreign policy, there is no real opposition party here. The Democrats did criticize George W. Bush when he was in office. But then, on security state, mass surveillance and U.S. empire, Obama has legitimized much of the policy that was so controversial under Bush.
Doesn’t it also matter that the U.S., unlike Russia, has never experienced massive war destruction on its own territory?
That is a factor. But overall, we see a depressing ignorance here when it comes to history. They have no idea about the Cold War and they understand nothing about Ukraine. That makes it hard to understand what is happening in the world.
Has Trump’s presidency not changed that public awareness about foreign policy?
What makes me optimistic are the students. I’ve gotten close to 30 interview requests for National History Day this year. Most of them are about the Manhattan Project (which developed the U.S. atomic bomb in World War II; ed.), which no one cared about for years.
What do House Republicans say about Trump’s INF withdrawal?
There are ten Democrats in the Senate who want to stop Trump from withdrawing from the INF Treaty. They want to prevent funding for missiles that do not comply with the rules of the INF Treaty.
Ten senators out of 100 is not a lot. What can they do?
They have a chance to get it through the House. But it’s more doubtful in the Senate.
So is Trump still on board alone on nuclear issues?
As in the ’80s, there’s the public. At the time, it created an atmosphere that allowed Ronald Reagan to come close to banning nuclear weapons in ReykjavIk, contrary to his original intention. Such an atmosphere could arise again. This is also supported by the new energy in the Democratic Party that has come to the House of Representatives with the young and progressive women.
The INF Treaty was one of the last of the Cold War. Since it went into effect, blocs and national borders have changed, as have weapons technologies, and the number of nuclear weapons has been reduced from about 65,000 to about 10,000. Doesn’t it make sense to try to make a new treaty?
It makes sense to try to negotiate a new one. But not to cancel the INF Treaty in the process. What we need is more cooperation, more trust, more negotiation, more diplomacy. But what the U.S. is doing – starting with the ABM Treaty (which regulated a limit on missile defense systems; ed.), pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, out of the Iran Agreement, and now out of the INF Treaty – is something else.
And it goes on: Trump has already announced that he is not ready for discussions on the renewal of the New START treaty, which is due in 2021. This raises fears that we are heading back to the 1980s. Back then, the world had the nuclear destruction potential of 1.47 million Hiroshima bombs. That’s where we could be headed back to. But since then, the world has become more dangerous. With dozens of countries that have the technological capability to arm themselves with nuclear weapons and feel pressure to do so. That makes nuclear anarchy a real possibility.
What should a new treaty accomplish?
I don’t think there is any chance for a new treaty. The only hope we have is not to allow the old treaty to be torn up. If the real issue were whether Russia was abiding by the treaty, mutual inspections would have to be the logical step. The U.S. could inspect Russian ground-based missiles. And the Russians could inspect the U.S. AEGIS defense system in Romania, which they believe could easily be converted to fire ground-based cruise missiles.
What role do you see for Europe in this situation?
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the EU’s foreign envoy, Federica Mogherini, have clearly supported the INF Treaty. But NATO immediately folded and backed Trump, despite previously calling the INF a pillar of stability and arms control.
So where can the solution come from?
I hope that the European public will exert pressure on the political leaders. Europe can prohibit the U.S. from deploying new missile systems and also put pressure on the U.S. by demanding the withdrawal of its other nuclear weapons from Europe. Europe should not consider the U.S. as an ally at this point. They are putting the world at risk. This forces Europe to take an independent position.
Europe should be more responsive to Russia. It could also express its displeasure by vetoing the excessive use of sanctions. The Europeans are trying something right now vis-à-vis Iran, where Trump also canceled an agreement that was working. Perhaps bypassing the U.S. financial system is the alternative way and the model.