Editorial: U.S. intends to withdraw from INF Treaty

U.S. President Donald Trump has made another outrageous statement.

Mr. Trump has announced his intention to withdraw from the Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which was concluded between the United States and the former Soviet Union in 1987 during the closing days of the Cold War. Mr. Trump said that Russia had violated the agreement.

If the bilateral treaty is abrogated, it is feared the United States and Russia will resume their efforts to enhance their nuclear and missile capabilities. This could lead to a three-way arms race involving China. This could also negatively impact the negotiations for the denuclearization of North Korea.

Mr. Trump’s attitude tramples on the sentiments of the A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who hope to see a world without nuclear weapons. We should not allow the world to return to the time of the nuclear arms race or the Cold War. Together with countries that support the early entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, we should urge the United States to step back from this plan.

In February of this year, Mr. Trump, a political hardliner, announced the new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), that nation’s guidelines for its nuclear strategy, which now includes easing conditions for the use of nuclear weapons and the development of smaller nuclear weapons. It has also been reported recently that the country has held its first subcritical nuclear experiment in five years.

To walk away from the INF Treaty, a party must communicate its intention to withdraw six months in advance. John Bolton, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, is expected to point out Russian violations of the treaty and deliver the president’s intention when he visits Russia between October 21 and 23.

It is not easy to predict how Russian President Vladimir Putin will react. According to U.S. newspapers, Mr. Trump will make a final decision within a few weeks. But it is time for both countries to stop and think. They need to consider the historical significance of the INF Treaty. Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided to work together to end the Cold War.

The INF Treaty bans ground-launch short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty is said to have sought to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons in Asia, including Japan, and in Europe. It was the first treaty that eliminated a specific category of nuclear weapons. An on-site inspection system was introduced, and the treaty led to the elimination of a total of 2,692 weapons in the two countries.

The administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama expressed to the international community its intention to pursue mutual nuclear disarmament, though not quite satisfactorily. However, there is deeply-rooted mutual distrust between the United States and Russia. Last year U.S. armed forces reported that they had confirmed Russia’s deployment of new ground-launched cruise missiles, a violation of the treaty. This report is believed to be an attempt to hold Russia in check.

Some in the U.S. administration contend that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which will expire in 2021, should not be extended unless Russia conforms to the treaty. Nuclear arms reduction is approaching a crucial stage.

In addition to the threat from Russia, Mr. Trump is concerned about China, which is not bound by the INF Treaty. Speaking to reporters yesterday, he said that it was unacceptable for the United States to be alone in adhering to the agreement, making pointed references to Russia and China. This is in keeping with his hardline attitude, but why now?

Because the U.S. midterm elections will take place on November 6, some perceive the president’s statement as a political appeal to his conservative base. But the actual intention seems to be gaining the upper hand over Russia and China now that these three nations have entered into what amounts to a new Cold War. Mr. Trump’s moves are full of folly.

The news of America’s possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty made headlines around the world. How did Prime Minister Shinzo Abe react to the news? He has stressed his friendly relations with the leaders of the United States and Russia. But rather than avoiding further reaction while under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, Mr. Abe, as the leader of the nation that suffered nuclear attacks, should be carrying out his responsibility of admonishing the leaders of the nuclear superpowers.

(Originally published on October 22, 2018)