China and the death of the INF

China fears new US missiles in Asia

Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney.

These notes are based on my interview with Melissa Chan at Deutsche Welle earlier today. For follow ups, please contact me via email (contact@adamni.com), Whatsapp (+61 40 6262 666) or Signal (+49 151 72059984).

The United States officially withdraw today from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). This is a key nuclear treaty between the US and Russia that banned the development and deployment of land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.

The demise of this important arms control treaty makes everyone less safe. It renews the prospect of arms race between US, China, Russia and others. China is worried that the US could deploy new missiles to Asia in order to counter its growing military power, and it will likely try to forestall such a development.

Why did the US pull out? The US withdrew because of Russian violations. In addition, the US wants to counter China’s growing military power in Asia by developing and possibly deploying these missiles to Asia.

China is not a signatory to the INF, and over the last two decades has developed the world’s most sophisticated land-based missile force; majority of its missiles would have been banned if China signed on. China aims these missiles at Taiwan and uses them to deter US from regional intervention.

Despite the Trump White House’s fondness for unilateralism, it doesn't want to be unilaterally constrained. The US wants to shift that relative balance of military forces in its favour to give it an upper hand vis-a-vis China, and this is part of that effort.

How will China respond? China's reaction has been predictably negative. Beijing has urged US and Russia to stick by the INF. Beijing will take countermeasures if the US deploys new missiles to Asia. For example, it will put pressure on US allies to not host these missiles. We saw that in 2016/2017 when China boycotted South Korean goods as a response to US deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system. China may also decide to counter new US missiles by developing and deploying more missiles and improving their lethality.

The demise of the INF foreshadows a more dangerous world with more weapons and less trust. If the Cold War had taught us anything it is that humanity had danced on the precipice of armageddon. What we are seeing today is lessons ignored or forgotten, and the foreshadowing of tragedy.