“The visit of John Bolton to Moscow attracted attention in connection with the announcement of possible US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. This is undoubtedly an important decision that will have major consequences for Russia, for the European security, and for strategic stability. There was a lot of talk about this, the debates will continue, but it is important to note that this issue was not the only one that was discussed during Bolton’s talks in Moscow. Moreover, it seems that there were no negotiations about the INF treaty, at least the detailed ones,” Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), said in an interview to www.valdaiclub.com.
The decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty has already been made and will be implemented by the United States regardless of the response from the Russian side. This decision is more political than military-strategic.
The fact is that the United States does not have a combat ready arsenal of medium and short range missiles, that Americans could quickly produce and deploy, for example, in Europe. Theoretically, of course, you can take the sea-based Tomahawks and transform them into land-based ones somewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, but this is not a sensible step from a military point of view. Therefore, the withdrawal from the treaty is not an event that can quickly and significantly change the power balance on the European theater.
I would make a comparison here with the ABM Treaty, from which the USA withdrew in 2001. However, in fact, all that time they continued to follow the agreement, that is, the actions of the Americans did not go beyond the limits indicated by the 1972 treaty and its 1974 supplement.
Internal political struggle in the USA
The foreign policy behavior of the United States is connected with the internal political struggle and the desire of Donald Trump to strengthen his position. Most of his decisions are conditioned by the tactical interests of the domestic political struggle. It is not for nothing that John Bolton visited Moscow on the eve of midterm elections to the US Congress.
Now, on the eve of November 6th, Trump is trying to demonstrate his toughness. The struggle is very acute, and the Democrats are likely to win the majority at least the lower house of Congress, which will complicate Trump's position. This situation may even provoke the beginning of the impeachment process. Although we cannot say that this process will advance far (this is a very complicated procedure: if the Senate remains in the hands of the Republicans, they will block any movement), the very beginning of the impeachment procedure will mean Trump’s political defeat.
The fact that John Bolton’s visit to Moscow took place on the eve of congressional elections, and that the United States’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty was announced just before this visit, means a desire to demonstrate that Trump is not Putin’s puppet, that he is ready to conduct a very tough dialogue with Russia.
Anyway, his opponents are unlikely to be convinced, they will still interpret the decision of the US administration as an attempt to play along with Moscow. In the American media there are already statements, that the withdrawal from the INF Treaty is an alleged willingness of Trump to take responsibility for the decision, that Moscow itself would otherwise have taken. It means that Putin outplayed Trump, made him the first to make the move.
So, it’s quite difficult to say now, how Trump’s foreign policy decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty can become an effective tool in the domestic political struggle.
If we talk about which of the parties will be able to use the scrapping of the treaty more effectively, Russia probably is in the best position. In Russia, according to the information from various sources, there are more advanced research and developments in this area. These developments could be quickly transformed into the deployment of concrete medium range systems.
First of all, the US withdrawal from the treaty will have consequences for Europe. It is not by chance that from Berlin we heard first critical reactions to the preliminary decision of the American administration. Even if new systems are not dedployed, Europe potentially comes under attack - instability rises, risks appear, and general nervousness in Europe is growing, which, unfortunately, now is far from the most peaceful place to live.
It is clear how China will react to the decision of the United States, especially when Washington repeatedly said that it is concerned not so much about the Russian violations, but about the building up of China’s nuclear potential, medium and short-range missiles. That is, the United States has another front of confrontation with China, and this will have implications for the entire Asia-Pacific region.
During his visit, John Bolton did not bring anything concrete to Moscow in terms of the strategic dialogue continuation. We can assume that if a full-format Putin-Trump summit takes place, the United States will come up with a proposal for a framework agreement, which could replace not only the INF Treaty, but also the START-3 agreement. Frankly speaking, the chances of START-3 prolongation are gloom.
If nothing is done, in the end we may end up with no bilateral agreements at all, which, of course, is not in the interests of the United States. Therefore, it is very likely that Washington will decide to sign some kind of a new, not very burdensome and even legally non-binding document, that would preserve at least some kind of framework for bilateral arms control.