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The U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty Is the Next Step in a Global Arms Race (stratfor.com)
57 points by Melchizedek 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments



I think it’s easy for Americans to see things as a resumption of the Cold War, which we won, and think that’s good.

But this time there are three players in the mutually assured destruction game, and we’ve been poking our thumb in both of their faces. The article mentions how much relations between Moscow and Beijing have improved.

The entire reason we normalized relations with China was to further box in the USSR, stretching them further than they could sustain.

It seems obvious to me that the tables have turned.


The nuclear aspect of the Cold War is something completely different from the rest of the Cold War which is mostly about influence and economics. Once you have MAD, there isn't really much point is continuing the nuclear game especially for intermediate range ICBMs. So I don't get what this is supposed to achieve other than to send a message that we're going into a new Cold War.


At 7km/s, it would take around 20 minutes for an ICBM fired from the US to reach Moscow. It takes about 3 minutes for an intermediate range missile to travel from Poland to Moscow.

So yes, there is a huge advantage to pursuing intermediate range missiles.


Why is 17 minutes important when the context is Mutually Assured Destruction, possibly enforced via stealth subs you can’t hit preemptively and deadman switches to detect the first strike?


That 17 minutes is important in terms of being able to assess the threat and react. 3 minutes might mean by the time you launch, enough launchers are destroyed that it's "worth it" to eat the counter attack and "win" at MAD.


I thought the point of nuclear submarines was that they don’t get destroyed in the other side’s first strike?


And it takes just a few years to turn those pro-Western countries that might house the missiles into mildly pro-Russian ones. Especially when they realize they're literally in the middle and Russia is way closer. Whether this is a good decision will be judged by the future generations. Looking around in the world doesn't it seem like most of US's allies have turned into disgruntled partners (employees?) at best or hostages at worst? Because they keep electing governments that are increasingly reluctant to be best friends with the US.


“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”

― Henry Kissinger


I don't know about friends but he is directly responsible for many of the enemies it has.


Time to watch WarGames again.


As long as Russia is a paltry market with a tiny sphere of economic influence, China will always face the US.


>As long as Russia is a paltry market with a tiny sphere of economic influence, China will always face the US.

A paltry market with a tiny sphere of economic influence... and a military. Despite being third world countries, Iraq and Afghanistan have caused $2.4 trillion in economic damages to the US[0]. Unless you are China, your best bet at subtracting value from the US economy is to get the US involved in a war. Further, as the Ukraine almost showed us, the war doesn't even have to be on your own soil.

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War


What makes you think the US won't use the same Cold War strategy but in reverse, i.e. normalizing relations with Russia to box in China? After all, only the US has what Russia really wants - control over Russia's western expansion.


I think the Ukraine would take issue with your final claim. Along with all the counties currently sanctioning against Russia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_sanctions_duri...


Oh I’m certain they would! But sometimes geopolitics means deciding between the lesser of two evils. I’m also quite certain the US views China’s global expansionist policies as much more of a threat then Russian regional expansion.


Why is the US receiving flack for deciding to no longer uphold their end of a bargain that Russia has been breaking for years


The Russian counter is that the "missile shield" being deployed by NATO in Europe, to knock out russian missiles before they reach their intended target, can also be modified from their "defensive" use to also attack (as regular missiles). Thus, they feel that the US has already violated the treaty by using a loophole (anti-missile defences were never considered when the treaty was made).

Moreover, some analysts are suggesting that this move is more directed towards China, then Russia. The treaty makes it difficult for US to deploy missiles targeted at China in that region as these missiles could, in theory, also target Russia.

So maybe some of the criticism is justified, if it is indeed the US that is trying to come up with excuses to wiggle out of this treaty.


> The Russian counter is that the "missile shield" being deployed by NATO in Europe, to knock out russian missiles before they reach their intended target, can also be modified from their "defensive" use to also attack (as regular missiles).

Are you sure that's what has been said? That they might be re-purposed for delivering nuclear warheads? That's crazy.

Their use in assisting a US first strike would be to help neutralize Russia's offensive threat, making whatever retaliatory response Russia could muster that much more survivable. From Russia's point of view, that's bad enough.

It's the sort of thing that was always a big roadblock to disarmament in the eighties, when people still cared about disarmament. You need to coordinate bringing up defensive weapons with retiring offensive weapons in a way that preserves some strategic balance, and if one side doesn't have the right sort of defensive weapons, or a good place to put them... It's why notions like the US partnering with the USSR to deploy defensive weapons were publicly floated.

“A President of the United States could offer to give that same defensive weapon to them to prove to them that there was no longer any need for keeping these missiles,” explained Reagan. “Or with that defense, he could then say to them, ‘I am willing to do away with all my missiles. You do away with yours’”


> That they might be re-purposed for delivering nuclear warheads? That's crazy.

Why do you think so?

The Indian Ballistic Missile Defence system was built by modifying a nuclear capable short range ballistic missile (Prithvi Missile - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prithvi_(missile) ). This modified version was designed in different configurations to intercept missiles in high and low altitude. ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Ballistic_Missile_Def... ).


> Why do you think so?

First, it'd be illegal to do in secret. Second and I suppose more significantly, it would not offer a military advantage over actually having them serve their intended purpose as defensive weapons (which would be useful in any hypothetical nuclear exchange, including a US first strike) and then moving a ballistic missile submarine or two to the Barents sea, or equipping some of the many attack submarines operating in those waters with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, or some combination of both.


> First, it'd be illegal to do in secret.

There isn't any need for secrecy. An anti-ballistic missile is also a missile. So they can theoretically be designed to be both defensive and offensive. That's what the indians did - converted one of their offensive missile to also be a defensive missile that can shoot down other missiles (I am not claiming that the Indians are using the same missile both as an offensive arsenal and in their missile defence shield, but just that it may be possible in the future for them. Both Russia and the US are well ahead of India in missile R&D, and it may not be far fetched to think that they may have already developed configurable missiles that could be used for both offence and defence.)


> There isn't any need for secrecy.

The Russian hypothesis we're discussing here is that these are not defensive weapons, they are secretly offensive weapons.

Strictly speaking, there would be a legal need for secrecy until we're fully withdrawn from the INF treaty. You'd also have to develop the nuclear warhead to fly on the interceptors in secret. They'd have to be awfully lightweight, since these interceptors aren't designed to carry a nuclear warhead. (a quick look at wiki indicates the RIM-161 uses a kinetic energy warhead, which is a little hint at how silly it is to even be having this discussion) So that's a weapons program you'd have to fund in secret, as well as the funding needed to adapt all those weapons systems to a completely different purpose and test them.

You'd have to keep the whole thing secret from those among our NATO allies who would never approve such a thing. Great idea.

None of this would give the United States any first strike capabilities it doesn't already have thanks to its navy. I'm trying to be polite but this is all very silly. It's just not what those systems are there for.


> Russian officials have raced to portray the United States as the nation at fault.

> They charge that American missile defense interceptors in Eastern Europe could be easily refashioned into offensive weapons, and that the rise of armed drones, which had not been invented when the treaty was signed, now threaten to provide Washington with similar intermediate-range ability without violating the precise wording of the treaty.

From https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/us/politics/trump-inf-nuc...


It's propaganda - it doesn't have to be true or make sense, it just has to deflect attention and blame from what Russia is doing. Which, according to US intelligence, has been designing, building, and actually deploying real, non-hypothetical cruise missiles with nuclear warheads that violate the treaty in question. Not missiles that could theoretically be modified to deliver nuclear warheads with some work, actual operational nuclear-armed treaty violations: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/world/europe/russia-cruis...

It helps that certain, ahem, outspoken Trump critics like https://twitter.com/krassenstein/status/1091683402741399552 are willing to literally regurgitate Putin's propaganda and claim to be fighting Russia by doing so, and there seem to be a fairly plentiful supply of people willing to eat this up so long as it's anti-Trump.


>You need to coordinate bringing up defensive weapons with retiring offensive weapons in a way that preserves some strategic balance, and if one side doesn't have the right sort of defensive weapons, or a good place to put them.

I find it fascinating that the treaties and the rhetoric around these treaties is a big fat middle finger to other countries. "Russia was strong once so they deserve to be treated like that." All the smaller countries inbetween are rendered unimportant and their defense doesn't matter.


> Arw you sure that's what has been said? That they might be re-purposed for delivering nuclear warheads? That's crazy.

Yeah, that’s what the Russians have said. I’m on my phone and I’m too lazy to search for references, but as a person that would be very negatively affected by a Russian strike on any one of those defense shield thingies (I live in Romania) I follow the subject closely and I can confirm that’s what the Russians think. You can search on YT for an interview with Putin with the German TV (I think) and when the interviewer mentions that the rocket shield installations in Poland and Romania are only for defensive purposes Putin instantly starts laughing. Not to mention that those installations were put in place with Iran in mind according to the official declarations from back then, but now even the Americans don’t use that excuse anymore.


I know the video you speak off Putin claimed that those launchers can be used to house tomahawk missiles which isn’t true as the launcher for the SM3 missile isn’t designed for that.

The SM3 missile can be used to attack ground targets but the US doesn’t have any nuclear warheads that can be fitted on it.

That said considering that the Israeli Arrow 3 system has a range of 2400km and it’s partially integrated with the US missile shield in Europe it’s more than just a local problem from Russia’s point of view.


To answer your first question: yes 110% that is what is being said

I'm in Germany and used to date a Russian guy. He would occasionally go off about how evil the US is and how they've already stationed missiles in Poland. He skipped the part about then being defensive and just talked as if they were offensive. I had literally no idea what he was talking about, this must have been what he meant. This is the Russian propaganda tactic: they scream and cry that they are the innocent ones, and are only making rational moves to protect themselves against the "evil US" and NATO. Any and all aguments about anything that Russia might have done wrong is met with Whataboutism.


Russia is not placing missiles in Canada and Mexico.


Because US isn't a threat to Canada and Mexico, as opposed to Russia vs. Poland or Estonia?


Ok, how about Honduras or Guatemala or Haiti or Cuba, which the US is a threat to?


if you keep moving the goal posts this hard you might throw out your back, please ensure proper warmups beforehand


I'm not moving any goal posts. The point is the US is actively encircling Russia, notably sponsoring a coup in the Ukraine and then conducting joint military exercises with its far-right government, while Russia is not doing anything even remotely comparable.


So a race to the bottom is somehow a good idea now?


Better than asymmetrical capabilities.



The problem with this analysis is that it assumes this move has anything whatsoever to do with Russia.


FTA: >"In addition to giving Russia free rein to build and deploy an unlimited number of intermediate-range missiles that could potentially be fitted with nuclear weapons,

withdrawing from the treaty would allow Putin to deflect responsibility and blame the US for both the treaty's collapse and any ensuing arms race."


Because the inevitable outcome is less stability and more expense. The arms race will resume. Europe is less safe.

If there's no treaty, it's not cheating, and there's nothing to negotiate. If it's cheating, there's a point of negotiating. Putin has a long history of criticizing Gorbechev's legacies, the treaties, perestroika, he laments the end of the USSR and the loss of its various fiefdom republics.

And on the U.S. side, is John Bolton, who doesn't believe in having a U.N., is anti-EU, promoted Brexit, doesn't believe in arms control treaties of any kind, was a central cause of the U.S. unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran JCPA treaty, and also pushed North Korea to withdraw from the NPT, which they did, and it makes their entire nuclear program completely legal, and was a principle architect and chickenhawk of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And to this day says that was not a mistake, it was good and appropriate.


Because that sort of "well they are doing it!" garbage is always what justifies nuclear escalation. The answer is to negotiate them back to a reasonable position. The Russians make the same complaints; not without reason. If the response to violation is abandonment and escalation rather than negotiation how will things ever improve?


It's crazy for the US to be bound to such a treaty with Russia while the most powerful country of the last 200 years not named the United States is rising rapidly to superpower status and is entirely unbound by the treaty. Not just unbound, they would never sign it under any circumstances.

Russia is a joke of a potential problem next to China, both economically and militarily. As China's technological capabilities mature in the military sphere, the former USSR will be a joke compared to what China will be capable of. The USSR always struggled with true global projection, that's not a problem China is going to have eventually.

Russia can't keep up with either the US or China. The US added $1.1-$1.2 trillion to its economic output in 2018. Russia's entire annual economic output is $1.5 trillion. At a 3% of GDP defense spending rate, the US can add 1/2 of Russia's defense spending every year (even after you adjust for the difference in costs between them, it's an impossible situation for Russia). China was the size of Russia's economy 20 years ago, now it's nearing ten times larger. Russia will never be able to spend the money necessary to keep up with the two superpowers on conventional forces and technology, they'll only be able to keep up on very narrow high value tech (eg hypersonic missiles or the S-300/400/500 missile systems). As Russia's economy goes nowhere for the next decade, they'll continue to try to flex their regional power to divert attention. However, Russia is never going to be more than a regional problem.

If you're the US, you don't want to be in a position of dramatic military weakness to China at any point or in any critical weapons segment over the next 20-30 years at least. While the US can just withdraw from Asia and go home (nicely protected by the enomority of the Pacific), if the US doesn't keep up with China (ideally working in tandem with its allies to offset the burden of cost), it ultimately leaves Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and every other ally in greater Asia in a very vulnerable position of forced deference as China's military pushes outward.


> China was the size of Russia's economy 20 years ago, now it's nearing ten times larger. ... As Russia's economy goes nowhere for the next decade...

Something doesn't add up here - why is Russia's economy so backward and heavily dependent on extractive industries in the first place? Yes they have a huge landmass which makes extractive industry comparatively easy and convenient, but so does Canada and nobody would describe the Canadian economy as anything less than highly developed and quite competitive. My guess is that there's no real reason why Russia couldn't start growing on a China-like path to ultimately be as highly-developed as the average Western country, and that the lack of any such growth is to do with short-term political stances, not any inherent or outside factors.


Yes, I too wonder the same - they have abundant natural resources (even oil) and have well established R&D centres that can match the west in output, and yet they seem to not have any capable economist?


> Russia is a joke of a potential problem next to China, both economically and militarily.

You overestimate China's capabilities, and underestimate Russia's. Russia is better at international politics than China, while China's dominating and new found arrogance makes potential allies uncomfortable. Not to mention that Russia still has a better military, and better weapons.

In both Africa and Asia, nations that welcomed Chinese investment are now very uncomfortable on the demands being placed on them. Increasing comparisons are being made to the way India handles their diplomatic relations with them (less aggressive, more cooperative). For example, both Maldives and Sri Lanka have turned to India after Chinese economic investments soured there.

Second, while India today may be faltering under the current inexperienced, right-wing loonies running it, the previous government with Dr. Manmohan Singh at the helm has already demonstrated that India has the potential to take on the Chinese both economically and militarily.

Ultimately, India as an ally of both the Russians and the West, knows that it will have to bear the brunt of any new future cold war between China and the west and is preparing for it.


Incorrect. Russia's violation of the INF Treaty is the next step in a global arms race. The US withdrawal from the treaty is a common sense response, since a treaty that one side is violating is worthless.


1. The US never bothered to prove their allegations 2. The US’s ABM batteries are more likely to be afoul of the INF 3. The Ruskies invited the US to explain what concerned them about their missles - they never answered. 3. The US - particularly the folks in charge now - has a history of withdrawing from arms control treaties (see ABM) 4. The US has a history of telling ridiculous lies about arms control (See ABM treaty, and how the Ruskies called all the US’s bluffs) 5. The US has already started attacking another treaty (weapons in space ban).

So the US doesn’t supply proof. Has a history of tearing treaties. Has been almost surely in violation of the INF for some time. Is poking holes in the last few remaining treaties.

But don’t worry about Armageddon: w/out an arms treaty, launching the thousands of obsolete ICBMs loaded with tungsten carbide bearings into orbit solves any countries’ security concerns vis a vis space ;)


What a load of BS. The proof, that Russia violated the treaty in 2014 is mentioned in the article.



Highly recommend the book Doomsday Machine by Ellsberg for those interested in this kind of thing.


Exactly. We really want to make it easier to return to that way of thinking, let alone actually restart building it?


I like to point out that Russia violated the INF Treaty in 2014. https://www.csis.org/analysis/putin%E2%80%99s-treaty-problem...


That's in the article.


How to bankrupt a corrupt Russian government? Induce them to spend a lot of money on their military. Worked in the Cold War.


That is a popular myth but really the USSR military spending sloped up independent of external factors and while pervasive never moved the needle in terms of political problems.

Far more destructive we’re long term structural problems (inability to provide consumer goods, lack of various sorts of personal freedoms). These had been tolerable in extremis (post revolutionary fervor, rapid growth/modernization, a big war) but increasingly destroyed enthusiasm and then support formhe regime. Low oil prices were the trigger.


Also for perspective: Russia’s economy is about the same size as Australia’s (but has 6x the population). This doesn’t give them a lot of money to work with; asymmetric warfare is much more cost effective.


Russia has already signaled openly that they know they can't keep up on spending with the US and China. Their forward budgeting statements indicate a halt to the formerly rapid military spending growth. China is what this treaty withdrawal is all about.

Pretty soon the US will be adding a new Russia every year in new economic output. Russia is not a competitive threat with the US overall, only on select regional matters and on a few important weapons systems. The dumbest thing the US could do, is worry about bankrupting Russia.

And if the US wanted to do that, there's only one good option: tank the price of oil dramatically by pushing up the value of the dollar. That won't work very well here, because the dollar is already relatively high, the US is now vulnerable on oil as a huge industry (and will be more so in the near future), and inflation adjusted (eg back to 1995 or 2005) oil is almost cheap right now (and it's not tanking Russia, they can roughly hold their ground at current prices). The dollar is how the USSR was bankrupted, as they over-bet their economic security on oil output from 1970-1990. Russia is being far better run with regard to macro economic choices right now than the USSR was, which limits their exposure to bankrupting shocks (again, short of eg sustained $20 oil).

The primary hope on the containment front is probably that Russia's need to raise or at least maintain its social welfare output (against a zero growth economy) is checked by oil prices (held down by US shale output), forcing a choice between military spending and social welfare. That's happening right now and has badly soured Putin's popularity at home. Oil goes to $110 and Putin gets a lot more money to play with while also placating domestic demands.


Long and boring necropost, but still I want to add some PoV from inside.

By numbers provided by Rosstat Russia looks somewhat stable, but in reality internal economic there is going to break if it would be treated the same way as for now. Some of the problems:

The real inflation rate is way higher than salary grow, especially in 60-th percentile and below which means 60% of active workers who already have income lower comparable to China are become poorer each day.

Whooping 11+% rate for loans on housing: with quick calculations a family of two working parents who can't apply to a subsidized loan (less than 2 children or both are older than 35) would have to pay 61% of a single average net salary each month for a 2-room apartment outside of Moscow or St. Petersburg and 10% for housing expenditures, so they both have to live on $729 in current exchange rate, which would be not enough to raise a single child.

There was a historical event on the 3rd of December, 2018: average price for Regular Conventional gas in US went below the correspondent mark of gas in Russia and is still lower. Why? Russian oil companies (there are only 3 of them as of now) haven't heard of work efficiency and ROI, but can make citizen pay to them.

The two biggest expenditures in budget from 2017 are military (with other secret parts) and current pensions, the latter is a 20-year of fkups in pension reforms, currently each worker indirectly (employees pay these to government in addition to wages without any reports to employers) sends 22% of their salary to pay current pensions and that covers 30% of them.

Social welfare spending? Education and science fundings were cut twice last year.

Would provide sources if someone asks, I just don't have enough time to lurk back on them to get the links and most of them would show you texts in russian anyway.


The Russians have cut their military budget.

The neocons assume the Russians can’t match the US for “tactical” nuclear capability and will stay put if, say, a small tactical nuke is used against an ally.

But the Ruskies have also been very clear that they are not going to spend insane amounts of money on an arms race. They’re stance is to go for the big fireworks early on in a potential conflict.

Also, don’t underestimate their arms industry. Their GDP is low, but their PPP GDP is not. They can build a twin engine fourth or fifth gen fighter at a fraction of the cost it takes us. A lot of the research for weapons has already been paid for by the USSR. They’re the second largest arms exporter brining in cash.

Also their weapons philosophy is to favor brutal efficiency. Their ABM over Moscow doesn’t try to hit a bullet with a bullet. It just set off a nuke in the skies over Lithuania.

Finally, weren’t the sanctions supposed to have bankrupt the Russians by now? They have very low debt, huge reserves (in Au, not their adversary’s paper).

Never mind balancing the budget; we can’t even pass a budget. The fed is forced to keep interests rates near zero because otherwise interest payments on a > 100% GDP debt become ruinous.

An arms race is something no one needs


> Never mind balancing the budget; we can’t even pass a budget.

Lol. But seriously, I guess it does come down to the politicians running a country that determines a nation's success.


The question is: why is the US backing out of this treaty now when they knew Russia had been violating it for years. I believe the US is preparing for a new arms race with China and is just lining up the paperwork.

The massive arms race in the 70s & 80s is what arguable took down the Soviet Union by applying too much pressure to a shaky economic system. With major cracks showing in the Chinese economy, is the US beginning to employ this tactic again?

Edit: I added this comment before reading the article based on news stories I heard yesterday. The article is basically positing the same theory.


I sure hope we’re not trying to spend China into bankruptcy the way we supposedly did with the USSR. China’s economy may not be as amazing as the official figures show, but it’s in vastly better shape than the 1970s USSR. Considering how US defense contracting loves to overspend to an absurd degree, I think we’d lose that fight badly.


I think it is a multi-pronged approach to Chinese economic, political, and military containment - trade war, attack on Chinese tech, arms race, etc. It will apply various pressure points to China's economy, political structure, and world standing. This added pressure will force Xi's regime to take more extreme measures to retain control, thus adding more systemic pressure. US allies are also beginning to adopt these policies.

I believe the US will start countering Belt and Road initiatives with alternative economic packages to African and Asian nations. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the US backed off of Russian aggression in exchange for anti-China support. I bet there's a white paper somewhere in Washington which lays out a similar strategy.


Yes but the military industrial complex that likely lobbied for this would have huge profits if a new arms race starts.




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