On Thursday, 5th September, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed his concerns about a new global arms race at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East. Putin’s comments come at a time of increased tension between the United States and Russia, as both nations begin testing missiles which would have been banned under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The INF Treaty collapsed earlier this year due to apparent Russian non-compliance.
Speaking in the Russian city of Vladivostok, Putin told the Eastern Economic Forum: “We are not happy about the fact that the head of the Pentagon said that the United States intends to deploy them [intermediate-range missiles] in Japan and South Korea, this saddens us and is a cause for certain concern.” According to Reuters, Putin also expressed his concerns that this new arms race could spread into space, a frontier which is having increased importance in the competition between 21st-century powers. Putin claims that Moscow had reached out to the United States with its concerns, but had received no response as of yet.
While Putin’s comments may seem to portray him as the sympathetic figure, it is important to remember that the collapse of the INF came after accusations of Russian non-compliance. While this accusation has been denied by the Kremlin, it follows a trend of Russian antagonism which has been underway for the previous decade: the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the downing of MH17 in 2014, and to top it all off, political interference throughout Europe and the United States which some fear is ongoing. These various actions have occurred with little to no punishment for the Russian Federation, and so a violation of the INF Treaty would be wholly unsurprising. Its collapse, allowing for the development of previously-banned missile systems, has provided both the United States and the Russian Federation with military opportunity.
The INF Treaty which collapsed earlier this year prohibited missiles with a range of 310 – 3,400 miles. A holdover from the Cold War, this treaty had initially been signed at a time of great tension and increasing nuclear proliferation between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the time, each power had been pointing thousands of missiles at one another, and there had been constant fear that the world could erupt into thermonuclear war at any point. The signing of the treaty in 1987 has often been heralded as one of the greatest diplomatic successes of the Cold War. In the immediate years following, both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. reduced their missile stocks as they shifted away from banned missile systems. However, this treaty collapsed earlier this year amidst accusations of Russian non-compliance.
The moral high ground Putin is trying to occupy with his comments is shaky at best. He does, however, raise a valid concern. A renewed arms race would be devastating for global peace efforts. The destructive potential of modern missiles is much greater, especially with the apparent development of ‘hypersonic’ missiles. To prevent this, it is necessary for both nations to come to the table and negotiate a new arms-limitation treaty. Without such a move, continued nuclear proliferation will continue to pose a threat to world peace and stability, and risks reverting the world to a ‘Cold War-esque’ status quo. The Cold War ended 30 years ago; it is time for its major belligerents to move forward and forge new paths to peace, instead of re-treading the same ground.