Editorial: End of INF Treaty must not lead to another nuclear arms race

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that was concluded between the United States and Russia expired yesterday. The treaty was a groundbreaking agreement that sought to eliminate a specific category of nuclear weapons for the first time in history. The impact of this treaty’s loss will be significant.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern, warning that, with the expiration of the treaty, “the world will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war.” We believe he is right. The United States and Russia, both nuclear superpowers, hold more than 90 percent of about 14,000 nuclear arms on earth. Without the INF Treaty regime, they may revert to another nuclear arms race.

The international community must immediately develop a framework for reductions in the number of nuclear weapons. Toward this end, the A-bombed city of Hiroshima needs to make fresh appeals for a world without nuclear arms.

The INF Treaty was designed to eliminate ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, with or without a nuclear warhead, within three years. It was concluded between the United States and Russia at the end of 1987. Negotiations went on amid rising tensions, when both nations had deployed intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. As the anti-nuclear movement gathered strength in the early 1980s, the slogan “No Euroshima” was heard. Against this backdrop, the INF Treaty was established.

By 1991, both countries had eliminated all 2692 of this category of weapons. This development helped end the Cold War and opened the door to nuclear disarmament.

China’s “uncontrolled military expansion”

In recent years, however, the United States and Russia have been trading accusations, each claiming that the other “has violated the agreement.” Last October, the United States announced that it would withdraw from the treaty. This February, they reaffirmed their intention to abrogate the treaty.

The United States seems to be thinking that they have been taken advantage of by China, which is not bound by the INF Treaty. China has developed new ballistic missiles and cruise missiles one after another to counter the United States with respect to Taiwan or the South China Sea. They now hold more than 2000 missiles, most of which are intermediate and shorter-range missiles that are prohibited by the INF Treaty. The U.S. territory of Guam, Taiwan, and Japan are all within range of Chinese missiles. It is said that some missiles could even be used against U.S. aircraft carriers. The United States apparently felt that China’s ongoing missile development was a case of “uncontrolled military expansion.”

The United States is expected to deploy cruise missiles in Guam and at U.S. military bases in Japan as a countermeasure. If that actually transpires, it will increase the risk of these locations becoming a target of China. The fact that the treaty has expired is a concern to Japan, too.

The nuclear arms race among the United States, Russia, and China must be halted. We are now worried about the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (the New START), the only remaining nuclear arms reduction-related treaty between the United States and Russia that limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) delivery vehicles. It is set to expire in February 2021. How the United States responds to the New START is likely the key to this treaty’s future.

Potential use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed a willingness to establish the “21st century model” of a multilateral disarmament framework. If he is serious about this, the international community would welcome his attempt.

However, the new Nuclear Posture Review released by the Trump administration revealed that the United States plans to proceed with the development of low-yield nuclear weapons which could be used in actual warfare. Under such circumstances, China and Russia won’t be inclined to sit at the negotiating table. And even if the United States presses North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, its words will not be persuasive.

China denies that it is a threat, contending that its nuclear arsenal is considerably smaller than the two nuclear superpowers. China is also reluctant to impose restrictions on itself by joining arms reduction talks. However, China’s military expansion in recent years has been alarming and must not be ignored.

Article Six of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obliges the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France to pursue “sincere negotiations toward nuclear disarmament.” Moreover, the participants, including these five nations, unanimously pledged “an unequivocal undertaking toward the elimination of nuclear weapons" at the NPT Review Conference in 2000.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons must become law

Nevertheless, the nuclear weapon states have broken their promises and neglected sincere negotiations. Their attitude has stirred a strong reaction from countries and civil society that desire a world without nuclear weapons, which led to the establishment of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The nuclear-armed nations should take to heart this trend in the international community and reflect on their recalcitrance.

The opposition of the nuclear weapon states toward nuclear arms reduction appears deeply rooted. Wouldn’t it be more effective, then, to make all nuclear arms illegal by putting the nuclear weapons ban treaty into effect? If Japan calls itself the A-bombed nation, it should stand on the frontline of the international community as it works to achieve the early entry into force of the nuclear weapons bans treaty. That is the crucial role of the A-bombed nation.

(Originally published on August 3, 2019)