New Cold War And Return of Arms Race

  • Publish Date: Dec 2 2018 12:17PM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 2 2018 12:39PM
New Cold War And Return of Arms RaceRepresentational Pic

In a surprising manner, the U.S. President Donald Trump recently remarked his intention of withdrawing from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF). This has led to huge speculation in the policy circles with many observers suggesting of rising tension between Washington and Moscow along with arms race. The arms control agreement was negotiated by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in Washington D.C. in 1987. During the Cold-War, the two blocks remained locked down owing to their different political ideologies with a major aim of superseding one another. While both sides averted major crisis, each side laid emphasis on building modern weaponry including nuclear arsenal. In a zero-sum pattern, each side acquired more weaponry that ultimately ended bloodlessly and Mikhail Gorbachev’s significant role in it cannot be forgotten. By scrapping INF treaty, Donald Trump is bringing hard elements in America’s foreign policy and altogether negating the earnest efforts made by the earlier statesmen who negotiated arms agreements for a peaceful future. 

It is important to mention here that despite the disintegration of the socialist block and so called ‘end of history’ moment, the ideology still persists and is actively shaping the post-cold war politics. Undoubtedly, Cold War politics had occupied every region of the world, however, much of its effects were felt in the European region, where two separate ideologies stood face to face each other. During the Cold War there was an intense arms race between the two blocks and Nikita Khrushchev’s statement that “we will bury you!” directed towards West had profound impact on how the Cold-War evolved. It was President Richard Nixon who brought relaxation in military tensions by signing Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT-I) with Soviet Union’s Premier Leonid Brezhnev in 1972. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 broke the détente and emerged as a strong hurdle in honoring the terms of SALT-2 talks negotiated by Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev in 1979. Back to square one. However, the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in mid 1980s brought a new era that led to the signature of a much important treaty–– the INF. For the people living in Europe, INF treaty was a big relief. It not only led to the elimination of number of short range missiles but also took Europe away from the stand-off of respective missiles of United States’ Pershing and Soviet Unions’ SS-20. 

By the provisions of INF treaty, nuclear missiles were kept out of Europe for nearly three decades. Does the scrapping of INF treaty signal the return of a Cold War? The recent political statements from Washington and Moscow are the reappearances of Cold-War like tensions. In reference to Trump administration’s decision of withdrawing from INF treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly warned United States’ of deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe. Putin has warned of possible counter-strikes to European nations, if United States deploy such missiles. The evolving political atmosphere is fraught with danger and in this regard several European nations have opposed Trump’s decision of pulling out from INF treaty that they believe could lead to nuclear arms race. 

Right from the beginning Donald Trump has shown strong disdain towards Multilateralism that remained the hallmarks of American diplomacy particularly under the democrat leadership of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In March of this year, Donald Trump announced of withdrawing from Iran nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had repeatedly confirmed that Iran is complying with all of its obligations under the nuclear deal. The Trump administration did not present any strong reason for the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, instead it was Donald Trump’s perception towards the defects in the deal that drove him for that decision. In addition, Donald Trump had repeatedly spoken against the Iranian nuclear deal during his Presidential campaign and it could be argued that the decision was more intended in character.  

In order to understand Donald Trump’s decision of pulling out from INF treaty, there is a need to look at the decision from what Kenneth Waltz calls levels of analysis. Apart from the strong despise by Donald Trump towards multilateralism, John Robert Bolton, the National Security Advisor to him is strongly disdainful towards arms agreements. His push towards the scrapping of the INF treaty cannot be overlooked. However, that does not explain everything. The important level for understanding this decision is how successive leadership of Washington have grappled to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 



Ever since Vladimir Putin has come to power in Moscow in 1999, the different administrations that represented United States have attempted to engage him albeit unsuccessfully. As the White House Correspondent for the New York Times wrote, Putin who formerly worked with Moscow’s top notch spy agency KGB has proven to be a tough riddle for leaders of Washington from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And now Donald Trump. Putin’s ambiguous persona and his unexpected diplomatic maneuvers have mostly put Washington on the back foot. Every new President of United States has attempted to build ties with Putin and amidst this Washington is pushed by events like invasion of Georgia and Ukraine. In the larger realm, Moscow under the leadership of Putin is trying to reclaim its position that it once possessed and continuously challenges the Washington’s dream of a unipolar world.  

In the post-Cold War times, Russia has actively benefitted herself in the larger framework of today’s so called liberal international order. The policy of acting tough against Moscow has failed in past and Donald Trump and his advisor seem to repeat the same mistake. The decision of withdrawing from INF treaty will not serve United States in strategic domain, instead it will only propel both sides for aggressive approach. The arms treaties serve as important institutions that shape expectations and in this domain there is a need to honour the treaty on both sides. Dishonouring and scrapping such institutions can lead to utter madness that the world around us doesn’t ask for.