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October 30, 2018

An end to a mad race


October 30, 2018

The worst humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, the wretched faces of the hapless people of Syria and the maimed masses in Afghanistan remind one about the horrors of war.

Such heart- wrenching scenes would disturb anyone with a humane heart but it is incomprehensible why such death and destruction does not affect the conscience of the international community which makes tall claims about working for peace and fighting wars and conflicts. Why does it not prompt the UN to spring into action and put an end to this business of massacre and slaughter? Why do the merchants of arms not stop pumping lethal annihilating machines into conflict zones?

The recent announcement by the US to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty will further militarise a world that is already laden with more than 12,000 nuclear arsenals and millions of non-conventional and small arms. The treaty, signed in 1987 between the USSR and the US, stops the two superpowers from having mid-range, ground-launched nuclear missiles. Many fear that, with two of four major arms control treaties already collapsed and a third up for renewal in 2021, killing the INF agreement could throw European security back to the pre-detente years of the cold war.

The INF treaty is unique among arms control deals in several ways. It was the first to eliminate an entire class of weapons and to establish intrusive verification procedures. But equally unusual was that those most impacted by its adoption and potential loss – the countries that sit between the then-Soviet Union’s border and the Atlantic Ocean – were not signatories. As a result, they have little say in its fate.

It may be mentioned that in 1983 a military exercise by Nato in Western Europe triggered concerns in Moscow which misinterpreted the exercise, raising the spectre of a nuclear conflict. However, the situation eased when the exercise ended.

The US asserts that it is Moscow that is violating the treaty, forcing Washington to consider its annulment. But critics believe it is war-mongers sitting in the power corridors of the White House, and their belligerent approach, that is pushing the world towards a precarious stage. They cite the past statements of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, urging Washington to scrap this and other nuclear arms control treaties. Bolton has been calling for US withdrawal since 2011, before the US made public its allegations against Moscow in 2014.

The US accuses Russia of violating the treaty since 2007, by deploying ground-launched cruise missiles within the banned ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. Denying the charges, Russia says the treaty was agreed by a “naive” Soviet leadership, forcing the Soviets to eliminate their stock of intermediate-range missiles, while the US was allowed to keep sea and air-launched equivalents the Soviet Union hadn’t developed. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes this created “a clear imbalance.”

Since the treaty prevents only Russia and US from developing intermediate range missile, other states feel free to possess these lethal arms. Many politicians, including President Putin, fear that other nuclear arms limitations treaties may also be threatened. Hardliners in the US administration also want to put an end to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known New START, which was signed between Moscow and Washington in April 2010. The treaty, which is to last till 2021, aims at reducing the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half. Putin has warned that if INF and New START are scrapped, then nothing will be left except an arms race.

Experts believe that since other countries like China and India are not part of the treaty, they are developing intermediate range missiles. European states find it hard to save the treaty because they have no say in the matter. It seems the belligerent approach of President Trump and his tedious acolytes will scupper any chance of retaining the treaty that had triggered a ripple of excitement among pacifists when it was signed in 1980s. The deployment of such missiles will fuel tension in Europe besides triggering protests in a region that was badly affected during the cold war. Some European analysts feel that the US is jeopardising the security of Europe to counter China.

It is very unfortunate that, on the one hand war-mongers in America are lambasting Obama for carrying out some pro-people reforms in health and other sectors, accusing the ex-president of squandering public money but on the other they want to pump billions of dollars into this senseless arms race. President Trump has made it clear that the US has lots of money and can spend it on arms.

The question is: if Washington is really brimming with wealth then why does it not direct it towards the homelessness of Americans or for those who are living on the bottom layer of social stratification? Why should it not be utilised to provide employment to more than 95 million jobless Americans? Should such wealth not be employed to lift over 40 million Americans out of poverty and extend help and succour to 45 million citizens who cannot afford expensive medical treatment?

If China and other countries are developing intermediate range missiles, that is no excuse to scrap the treaty. Instead of pulling out of the treaty, the US should lobby for a comprehensive treaty obliging all states not to develop such lethal arms. A number of European states appear to be amenable to the idea of further reducing nuclear arms. Washington just needs to take the initiative. After all, in the past, it resolved so many intricate issues with the help of its Western allies. Countries like Canada and Japan should also push the US for such an initiative.

China, whose One Belt One Road policy needs long-term peace and stability, should make hectic efforts aimed at convincing Moscow that no country will benefit from this insane arms race. The world should move from possessing less nuclear arms to zero nuclear arsenal. It should not further burden earth with these tools of death and destruction. Lavish spending on these machines of massacre should not be allowed in a civilised age.

It is surprising to see why the incumbent of the Oval Office is advocating the annulment of such a treaty. President Trump himself is said to have commented that the US spent around six trillion dollars on the Middle East and got nothing. Three trillion dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars also brought no blessings for the citizens of the only superpower. Therefore, it is important that the saner elements in the Trump administration should sideline the hawks that seem to be pushing the world towards a conflagration. Those in the power corridors of Washington should remember that the unilateral decision of President Trump against the Iranian nuclear deal, his treatment of European allies and decision to abandon the Paris Climate agreement have already dented America’s position as a global leader.

Since the possible scrapping of this treaty amounts to sending alarm bells to Western capitals, triggering a wave of concerns, it must be retained and more efforts be made to seek the complete denuclearisation of the world. This is the only way to save a world that is already inching towards destruction and possible annihilation because of wars, conflicts and environmental disasters.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]