I see, in an article in the Globe and Mail, that “President Donald Trump said Saturday he will pull the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because Russia has violated the agreement, but he provided no details on the violations … [and] … The 1987 pact, which helps protect the security of the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East, prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.” The treaty was signed by US President Reagan and the then Soviet Union’s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and it was almost the end of a long, difficult process that started with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreement in 1972 which were, themselves, contentious in the US led West because many, many thoughtful people did not believe that the Soviets could ever be trusted to abide by any agreement. The INF (as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty is known) was equally contentious. For about 10 years Vladimir Putin has wanted out of the INF and, in 2017, he threatened to pull out of the treaty if the US developed new weapons.
Of course this being Donald Trump, it appears that Russia is not the real problem. While the US president, the Globe and Mail reports, says that ““Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years” … [he said after a rally in Nevada] … “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to”,” his real target appears to be China. He also said, at the same rally, that ““We’ll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable.”” Now, of course, China was never part of the INF because the changes that we now call ‘China’s Rise‘ (Hu Jintao’s term) really only began in about 1979 when Deng Xiaoping began to instal pragmatic economic reforms onto the aimless, ramshackle beast that had been Communist China for 30 years. It took 15 years for Deng’s reforms to even begin to be noticed, by which time the old Soviet Union had collapsed and we were, almost, in a brief period of US ‘hyper-puissance.’
The facts, as far as I can discern them, are that:
- Both the US and China have, at least in some measures, already violated the terms of the INF and Russia is doing so in a more aggressive manner; and
- China has built a significant nuclear missile (all ranges, including inter-continental) force that poses a very real threat to US forces in the Western Pacific. John Bolton is, according to many, “a hawk’s hawk” and however unfair that sort of labelling might be there is little doubt that he has brought a new level of bellicose rhetoric to this administration, especially towards China.
I think that President Trump, himself, thinks in very narrow, very short term ‘balance sheet‘ terms which is why he actually likes trade wars and tariffs and so on. His economic advisors, Larry Kudlow, Peter Navarro and Robert Lighthizer are more strategic in that they seem to share a long term plan for bringing American heavy industry ‘home;’ but they are, in my view, probably, seriously misguided. John Bolton, on the other hand, is more interested in the concept of total power, economic, political and military and I believe that he thinks that the US led West, going all the way back to Nixon, has given China too much of a free ride. I doubt he is quite as aggressively anti-Chinese as was former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who actually compared the threat of China’s current rise to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and is convinced that a Sino-American conflict is inevitable. All of these fuel Trump’s desire to lash out at those he perceives to be ganging up on America.
My fear remains that President Trump doesn’t have a plan … I suspect he operates on a mix of emotion and instinct and that his own ‘go it alone’ instinct means that he will get in well over his (and America’s) head. I don’t think just tearing up treaties and then demanding that China “comes to us” and Russia “comes to us,” the implication being that both will come on bended knee, is realistic. Putin will not and Xi will, must for his own internal, political reasons respond imperiously. Well, so did Stalin, didn’t he? Yes, indeed, but when President Harry Truman set out to ‘contain‘ the USSR he was surrounded by friends, old and new, who wanted to share America’s vision of a ‘free world.’ As I said about 10 days ago, President Trump has turned his back on, even attacked his closest friends and allies … no one wants to be led by Donald Trump’s America, no one wants to support it; a few, perhaps even many will go along to get along but it will be nothing like the unity of support that America enjoyed during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. And Xi Jinping is not an old, ailing Stalin or a blustering Khrushchev; he is a cold, calculating, ruthless long term strategic thinker … if I liked what he thinks, and I don’t, I would admire him.
I actually sympathize with President Trump: the Russians never could be trusted, not when they were led by Gorbachev and not now, when Putin is in charge; the Chinese were never part if the INF treaty so they have built a potent, regional nuclear force while the American led West watched and said little and did nothing. So America, probably, possibly, should do something … I just wish we could trust America’s leadership.