Propaganda on the INF

It is essential to blame Russia for the collapse in the global framework of arms control.

It is disappointing but perhaps not surprising to see even ‘senior’ journalists engaged in the work of propagandaising this message on behalf of NATO and the US. This is a piece in the Guardian attributed to the Guardian’s world affairs editor, Julian Borger, and another writer. 

Before looking at how they manage to blame Russia for the collapse of the INF let’s briefly review what has been and is happening to the world’s major arms control treaties:

  1. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed in 1972 between the US and Soviet Union (and re-affirmed with Russia). It limited the amount of anti-ballistic missile systems each side could deploy. The US unilaterally withdrew from the treaty in 2001 in order to develop its own anti-ballistic missile systems.
  2. The INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty) was signed in 1988 between the US and the Soviet Union. This treaty banned all land-based missiles with a range between 500 Km and 5000 Km. The treaty was brought about because of a dangerous situation in Europe with each side pointing nuclear capable missiles at each other which could reach their target within a few minutes. The US collapsed this treaty in 2018 citing Russian non-compliance (see below).
  3. The third plank of global arms reduction is the 2010 New Start Treaty signed between the US and Russia which limited the amount of nuclear missile launchers each side could have. It is due to be renewed in 2021. The US has signalled they they are unlikely to renew it. [1] Trump has called it “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration”. [2]

So; three treaties helping to protect the world from the catastrophe of nuclear annihilation. The US has collapsed two and is talking about not renewing the third. In the case of the ABM Treaty and New Start the US has (or will if they do) simply ended the treaty because it wasn’t convenient for them. There are no claims of Russian non-compliance. This makes it all the more important perhaps to message that the fault for the breakdown of the INF Treaty lies with Russia. But does it?

Firstly; while the official line from the White House is that the US is collapsing the INF because of Russian non-compliance military strategists close to the centres of power in the US also cite the fact that China is not part of this treaty; for example see this article also by Julian Borges with its reference to “US hawks have also argued that the INF treaty ties the country’s hands in its strategic rivalry with China in the Pacific” [3] Their concern is that China is able to develop military strength in an area which the US cannot – because the US is limited by the INF to which China is not a signatory. China is currently engaged in a significant development of its military capacity. This quotation attributed to President Trump makes the link to China 100% clear:

Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,’ but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable. So we have a tremendous amount of money to play with with our military. [3]

In other words; this is clear. The US is, as with the other treaties, withdrawing from the INF because it doesn’t suit their own military strategic plans. In this case specifically in connection with China as well as Russia.

The claim about Russia having violated the INF is a pretext.

Let’s consider the pretext itself. The claim is that Russia tested and has made a limited deployment of a missile which is in breach of the treaty, the SSC-8 (NATO reporting name). [4] Russia claims that the missile does not breach the treaty because it does not fly within the prohibited ranged. [5] The US claims that they recorded a test flight flying over 500 Km – when the missile was launched from a fixed launch pad. A subsequent test from a mobile launch vehicle was recorded at less than 500 Km. [5] The alleged deployments appear to be of mobile launchers. Taking all this together it appears that the missile may potentially have a capability to fly at greater than 500 Km and the Russians may be interested in that capacity but that their current deployment has been tested within the terms of the treaty.  (The US seems to claim that the land-based test indicates that the missiles even when launched from mobile launchers have a range greater than 500 Km though they do not claim that the Russians have tested this). However; since the treaty bans testing of missiles within this range Russia (if the US surveillance is correct) did make a technical breach of the treaty in testing beyond 500 Km. And Russia may have deployed missiles with a capacity in breach of the treaty. However even with this in mind the US side is only claiming that a limited number of missiles have been deployed. [5]

For its part Russia has claimed that the US ABM installations in Poland and Romania (built after the US withdrew from the ABM treaty) also violate the INF treaty because the launchers could readily be adapted (and secretly) to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles. These missiles have a range of 2,500 Km. They are allowed under the INF because they are launched from sea or air. But the Russian claim is that the US could use its ABM installations to secretly deploy these missiles close to Russia.

It may therefore be the case that Russia developed the SSC-8 in response to US plans (subsequently realised) to set up ABM launch sites in Romania and Poland. If this is the case the unravelling of the INF can be understood as a direct result of the US pulling out of the ABM. Putin has repeatedly referred to the US pulling out of the ABM Treaty as a key moment in the breakdown of US-Russia relations and the start of something like a new arms race. [6]

It is clear that the major driving force behind the collapse of the global arms control framework – which will be complete if the US does not renew the New Start Treaty in 2021 – is US military strategy. Their acknowledged strategy is of complete domination – known as “full-spectrum dominance”.  [7] The ABM and INF treaties got in the way of this. Russia’s limited breach of the INF could have been negotiated – and would have been had the aim been parity of power between Russia and the US. But two factors prevented this: i) the rise of China and ii) US desire for full-spectrum dominance; which is not a doctrine of parity of power. (We could also add that the other factor as always will be the power of the US arms corporations and their lobbyists in various ‘think-tanks’ to pressure the US government into buying – and using – more of their weapons).

Nonetheless it is essential to message that Russia is responsible for the breakdown of the INF Treaty. Guardian journalists (and other Western media ‘journalists’) can be relied on to do the messaging which is required by the US State Department. Thus the Guardian World Affairs Editor can, in the article referenced above, present a nice linear sequence of Russian non-compliance and a reluctant US responding with defensive steps: “Russia’s refusal to scrap the weapon led Donald Trump to withdraw the US from the INF treaty”. Simplistic, babyish in its expectation that anyone would believe in this black and white explanation, but nonetheless, for some reason, powerful propaganda.

Notes

1. https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2019-07/news/bolton-declares-new-start-extension-unlikely

2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-31/with-putin-and-trump-in-charge-the-risk-of-nuclear-war-returns

3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/20/trump-us-nuclear-arms-treaty-russia

4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/world/europe/russia-cruise-missile-arms-control-treaty.html?_r=0

5. https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/ssc-8-novator-9m729/

6. https://tass.com/politics/992402

7. US Department of Defence

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Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer