INF: the end of arms control?

Nato has for the first time formally accused Russia of breaking the agreement on eliminating medium-range missiles. The US also gave Moscow an ultimatum, saying it must fulfil its obligations within 60 days or face the consequences. For his part Putin has threatened to increase Russia's nuclear arms stockpile if the US withdraws from the treaty. Commentators examine the potential fallout.

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Izvestia (RU) /

Twenty minutes to doomsday

Stationing US missiles in Eastern Europe would drastically increase the risk of an unintentional nuclear emergency, Izvestia warns:

“In recent times politicians in some of Russia's neighbouring states have invited the US military onto their territory in increasingly urgent tones. The desire for US bases has been expressed among other places in Warsaw, as well as in Kiev following the provocation in the Kerch Strait. ... If the US withdraws from the INF Treaty and authorises the stationing of intermediate-range missiles in Russia's neighbouring states, the world will enter what's known as '20 minutes to war'. That's a threshold: in such a short time it's impossible to accurately assess the risks of a situation. Any sign that a missile has been fired on one side would be interpreted as a real threat - with all the consequences that entails.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Europe needs its own nuclear deterrence

Without the INF Treaty Europe would be entirely without protection, former diplomat Stefano Stefanini writes in La Stampa:

“The spectre of nuclear war has returned to Europe. There are only two possibilities for defusing the risk: disarmament and/or deterrence. The Europeans have no control over the first and have always relied on the Americans for the second. The American nuclear guarantee invoked in Nato's Article 5 is the pillar of European security. Now for the first time Europe runs the risk of having to get by without credible nuclear deterrence. ... If Russia fails to accept the demands [that it comply with the INF Treaty], the Europeans will have to think about building up their own nuclear deterrence. Because they'll no longer be able to count on the US.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Danger of uncontrolled arms race

The Süddeutsche Zeitung sees little chance of an agreement:

“Russia's violations of the INF Treaty suit the hawks in Washington to a T. Because they've long seen China - a nuclear power that's not bound by the INF and which threatens US bases and allies in Asia with intermediate-range missiles - as their main strategic rival. ... Not even the extension of the New Start Deal between Russia and the US on the limitation of strategic nuclear weapons, which expires in 2021, is on firm ground. And if it isn't extended there would be no limits on the nuclear arsenals of the two erstwhile superpowers for the first time since 1972. That would be tantamount to the collapse of the once stable architecture of arms control. And if North Korea establishes itself as a further de-facto nuclear power, even the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will begin to totter.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

US scores an own goal

The US is shooting itself in the foot by withdrawing from the INF Treaty, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“Developing its own nuclear intermediate-range missiles would be very expensive for the country, and would force it in addition to cut its military budget in other places. At a time when the US is having problems scraping together the cash to answer China's claim to dominance in East Asia, it would be strange to make investments in intermediate-range missiles its top priority. In any event, no country in Western Europe is about to volunteer to host such weapons. What was conceived as a sign of strength could turn out to be a weakness.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Putin's sabre rattling needs a clear answer

For De Telegraaf the blame for the crisis lies clearly with Russia:

“Once again it's the Russians who are triggering a new nuclear arms race. The development and introduction of the SSC-8 missiles with a range of more than 500 kilometres is banned under the INF Treaty. But as so often Moscow is playing innocent. ... Nato will now discuss what steps to take if the Russians continue to undermine arms controls and the US draws the correct conclusions and withdraws from the treaty. As a last resort that will mean stationing new missiles as a counterweight. Putin's sabre-rattling must not go unanswered.”