National Security

INF Withdrawal the Smart Call

As history shows, arms control is a sucker's game, and Trump was right to call out Russia.

Harold Hutchison · Oct. 24, 2018

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. This eliminated an entire class of land-based missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. In accordance with that treaty, the United States scrapped its entire operable force of Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles, along with the Pershing I and Pershing II ballistic missiles. Russia did the same with its forces.

However, the Russians have been cheating in recent years. Among the missiles Russia has that violate the terms of the treaty are the SS-26 Stone, a ballistic missile also known as the Iskander, and the SSC-8, a modified version of the SS-N-30 Sizzler cruise missile. These violations went on for years, and the Obama administration did nothing.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump declared his intent to pull the United States out of the INF treaty, which by now had the effect of unilaterally disarming the United States. Whining and insults from Mikhail Gorbachev aside, this was the smart call. The sad fact of the matter is that Russia has been cheating for quite a while, and this withdrawal merely reflects the facts on the ground.

Trump has applied a lesson that the United States learned the hard way in World War II. In the 1920s, the U.S. signed on to a number of arms control treaties, including the Washington Treaty and the London Naval Treaty. We abided by the provisions, among which included liming cruisers to a displacement of 10,000 tons and not fortifying our outposts in the Pacific. One of the other countries that signed those treaties was Japan.

A cursory look at some of the information on Japan’s heavy cruisers that saw action in World War II reveals that Japan’s idea of compliance with those arms treaties was utterly at odds with other signatories. Japanese heavy cruisers came in well over 10,000 tons. And the islands they controlled in the Pacific under League of Nations mandates? Well, look up the Battle of Tarawa to get a sense as to what they did, and ask how treaty-compliant their installations in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands were.

The fact is, arms control is a sucker’s game. Whether it was the naval arms control efforts of the 1920s and 1930s, or the nuclear negotiations with the Soviets, even the New START agreement Barack Obama rammed through, the pattern has been that American adversaries failed to comply with these agreements. So this leaves us with a decision that on one hand is easy, but it involves viewing the world as it is.

When adversaries are violating these treaties, those agreements are clearly no longer in the interest of the United States of America. President Trump put it best when he expressed hope that the world can come to its senses regarding nuclear weapons. But until that day comes — and to be honest, that seems to be a long way away — the United States has the obligation to ensure it has the proper nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries.

We don’t have to like this reality. But if we don’t deal with the situation as it really is, we may find ourselves in a terrible position. The nuclear war that is never fought is always the best one. Since good will and arms control don’t work, it’s time to use deterrence.

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