Throughout the decision-making process for the United States to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Washington viewed NATO unity as essential.
The first unified NATO message came at the NATO Foreign Ministerial in December 2018, where NATO members released a joint statement stating that Russia was in material breach of the INF Treaty and that the United States was in compliance with its INF obligations.
At the NATO Defense Ministerial in June 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made clear that NATO “will respond” should Russia fail to return to “full and verifiable compliance” with the INF Treaty. NATO members urged Russia to return to compliance up until the United States formally withdrew from the treaty after the August 2 deadline.
Where does NATO go next in a post-INF world? On August 2, Stoltenberg again took to the podium, asserting that Russia bears the sole responsibility for the demise of the INF Treaty and that there will be a “balanced, coordinated, and defensive response from NATO.”
This response will likely include adjustments to exercises; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; air and missile defenses; and conventional capabilities. Longer term, the challenge for NATO will be to maintain member cohesion and resolve while adapting a deterrence and defense strategy, which includes nuclear and conventional capabilities, to offset any Russian advantages gained through Russia’s continued violation of the treaty.
It is also unclear what the future of arms control and non-proliferation negotiations holds, particularly related to extending the New START Treaty. A day after the United States’ formal withdrawal from the INF Treaty, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that he was in favor of deploying short-range ground-based missiles to Asia in response to China’s expanding arsenal of a similar range.
Then, on August 18, the United States tested a modified ground-launched version of the Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile off the coast of California. While these moves could be an attempt to draw China to the negotiating table on arms control with a view to a three-way arms control negotiation, they could also trigger a new arms race.
NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partner Sweden has also expressed concern about the likelihood of a new arms race. Sweden recently decided not to endorse the UN’s Nuclear Ban Treaty due to concerns that it: undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); could prevent Sweden from working with NATO given NATO’s status as a nuclear alliance; and does little to effectively advance nuclear disarmament since nuclear-weapon states are not part of the agreement. Sweden’s decision increases pressure to instead strengthen the NPT, which is up for its five-year review in spring 2020. (end of excerpt)
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