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Igor Ivanov

President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

Today we can confidently state that the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty failed to strengthen the security of the United States and did not advance the country towards realising its far-reaching plans for building a unipolar world. Moreover, while having formally withdrawn from the Treaty, Washington was essentially forced to comply with its terms, since it had neither technological capabilities nor the financial resources to build a full-fledged missile defence system.

Unfortunately, history does not teach those who do not wish to learn from their past mistakes. Now Washington has decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (the INF Treaty) signed by the USSR and the United States in 1987.

What consequences could such steps of the U.S. Administration have?

There is a lot of room here for various judgements and forecasts, even the most catastrophic. But one thing is clear: nothing good can come of this.

Everyone will lose here, including the United States.

Is there still a chance of stopping Washington from taking such destructive steps? That appears unlikely. As we can see, the United States prefers to listen to itself only and follow the “America first” slogan. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty is not an exception to the rule. Nor is it an annoying failure or an accidental mistake. Rather, it is the logical continuation of a course in global affairs that the United States has been steering for several years now. By the looks of it, the United States has no intention of abandoning this course in the near future.

Washington has to understand that unilateral steps which damage international security actually lead to the growing isolation of the United States in international affairs, the progressive erosion of America’s global leadership, and even the closest allies and partners of the United States losing their confidence in America. Then the feeling of responsibility and basic common sense that Americans have always had in spades will ultimately triumph over their intoxication with all-permissiveness and political adventurism.

Seventeen years ago, in late 2001, the George W. Bush Administration announced the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) that Moscow and Washington, which was signed in 1972 and had served as a foundation of global strategic stability for 30 years. I remember well the tremendous efforts the Russian leadership poured into trying to keep the American side from taking such a step. President Vladimir Putin met several times with President George W. Bush, suggesting various options for preserving the Treaty.

The overwhelming majority of states throughout the world supported Russia’s stance, in the repeated votes at the UN General Assembly as well. The withdrawal of the United States from the Treaty was not approved of by its main allies either. Within the US, many politicians and experts voiced their concerns about the consequences of withdrawing from the Treaty. Everything was in vain: Washington ignored the opinion of Russia, the global community and the domestic opposition and resolutely demolished the ABM Treaty.

Today, many years later, we can confidently state that the withdrawal from the Treaty failed to strengthen the security of the United States and did not advance the country towards realising its far-reaching plans for building a unipolar world. Moreover, while having formally withdrawn from the Treaty, Washington was essentially forced to comply with its terms, since it had neither technological capabilities nor the financial resources to build a full-fledged missile defence system.

At the same time, the very fact that the United States withdrew from the Treaty caused significant damage to both the complicated mechanism of control over the strategic nuclear potentials of Russia and the United States and the non-proliferation regime as such. The unilateral demolition of the ABM Treaty could not but affect the level of confidence between Moscow and Washington; it also became a serious obstacle in the way of bilateral cooperation on other nuclear matters.

Unfortunately, history does not teach those who do not wish to learn from their past mistakes. Now Washington has decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (the INF Treaty) signed by the USSR and the United States in 1987. Once again, contrived pretexts are being put forward that fail to convince anyone and yet again show that Washington continues to openly disregard the interests of international security, including the security of its closest allies in Europe, Asia and throughout the world.

It is perfectly clear that the withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty will only accelerate the deployment of that type of missile by both the United States and Russia, as well as by a large group of states that have the necessary capabilities. Many of those countries are in high-risk regions where military tensions are already elevated.

I would venture to suggest that, following the withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the U.S. Administration will waste no time in making the decision not to prolong the New START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed in April 2010 and expiring in 2021. Adding to that the facts the United States still does not intend to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and that Washington demonstratively withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is much to worry about.

What consequences could such steps of the U.S. Administration have?

There is a lot of room here for various judgements and forecasts, even the most catastrophic. But one thing is clear: nothing good can come of this.

Everyone will lose here, including the United States.

Is there still a chance of stopping Washington from taking such destructive steps? That appears unlikely. As we can see, the United States prefers to listen to itself only and follow the “America first” slogan. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty is not an exception to the rule. Nor is it an annoying failure or an accidental mistake. Rather, it is the logical continuation of a course in global affairs that the United States has been steering for several years now. By the looks of it, the United States has no intention of abandoning this course in the near future.

It would come natural to ask how other global political actors should react to Washington’s conduct in international affairs. It would seem that in the coming years we can expect, on the one hand, the rapid acceleration of the race for all manner of arms and, on the other hand, the hasty rapprochement between various states and groups for the sake of ensuring their own security in the face of the open challenge made by the United States.

As for Russia, along with the continuation of its policy to modernising the armed forces with due account of new challenges and security threats, it should also consider stepping up diplomatic efforts to bring about a closer coordination of efforts with its partners and all those who share its concern about the emerging situation. This applies primarily to China and other states along Russia’s borders. But not to them alone! Today, it is a matter of shaping a global coalition of responsible international actors, primarily of great powers that are opposed to the nuclear adventurism of the United States. It would appear that the question of creating new and strengthening the existing multilateral mechanisms for ensuring strategic stability should be raised, even if the participation of the United States in these mechanisms is postponed for an indefinite amount of time.

Washington has to understand that unilateral steps which damage international security actually lead to the growing isolation of the United States in international affairs, the progressive erosion of America’s global leadership, and even the closest allies and partners of the United States losing their confidence in America. Then the feeling of responsibility and basic common sense that Americans have always had in spades will ultimately triumph over their intoxication with all-permissiveness and political adventurism.

First published in The Moscow Times.

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  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
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