From the strategic and diplomatic realms to the budgetary and tactical levels, Trump’s decision makes no sense.
Donald Trump announced at a campaign rally on Saturday that he will walk away from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a move that his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has long endorsed. The reasons given for withdrawal are Russia’s deployment of a prohibited ground-based cruise missile and China’s stockpile of INF-range missiles.
There are effective treaty-compliant counters to the Russian violation by means of air-delivered and sea-based capabilities that the Pentagon is already pursuing. The White House could also push Vladimir Putin to return to treaty compliance by linking American restraint on deploying more missile defenses in Europe to the removal of Russia’s noncompliant missiles. But neither Trump nor Bolton has demonstrated a fondness for diplomacy or an interest in reaffirming the INF Treaty. This move is about freedom of U.S. action and a deep, abiding distrust of treaties.
Trump’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty fits into an “America First” strategy that undermines diplomatic ties. That’s the take-away by U.S. friends and allies — along with a foreboding sense of an intensified nuclear competition.
Highlighting the China angle for exiting the INF Treaty is new. Previously, Moscow complained more about this than Washington, and Asian countries haven’t been overly alarmed about China’s nuclear-tipped missiles. Instead, they appear far more concerned about China’s growing conventional seapower and its investment strategies that offer too little in return for massive debt.
Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center.
This article originally appeared in Defense One. Read more here.