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China and Possible US Withdrawal from the INF

Ehsan Sadeqi Chimeh
November 2018

Introduction
US President Donald Trump on October 20, 2018, accused Russia of noncompliance with its commitments as per the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), threatening that the United States will withdraw from this important treaty, which means to control nonproliferation of such weapons. As part of his threat to quit the treaty, Trump also made a reference to China though this country is not a partner to this important weapons control pact. John Bolton, the US national security advisor, also paid a visit to Russia noting that the possible measure by the United States to quit the treaty could be a reaction to such an actor as China.
China and the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union
First of all, it must be noted that this treaty is an agreement, which was signed between the United States and the former Soviet Union in 1987. It was signed by then US president, Ronald Reagan, and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was then leader of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. As said before, China is not a member to this treaty. The absence of China from this bilateral strategic agreement, which pertained to arms control during the Cold War, could be considered as a result of the bipolar international system of that time. In 1972 and after a visit by Richard Nixon to China and his meeting with Mao Zedong, Beijing turned into an effective element and a balancing weight in the United States’ strategy to contain the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, especially under the leadership of Mao, China had turned into a military power, both in terms of conventional and unconventional weapons, but was not considered a strategic concern by the United States. It must be noted that starting from 1972, strategic relations have been established between the United States and China. Of course, during various periods, especially following the termination of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, those ties have been vacillating over a range of geopolitical relations. While cooperation formed one end of that range, its other end was rivalry.
The current approach of the US to China
Now, we must cast a look at the present approach taken to China by the US administration, which is led by the Republicans and some neoconservative figures. It must be noted that the recent US threat about possible withdrawal from the aforementioned arms control treaty is just part of the United States’ more general concern about China’s developing power, including various aspects of its national power such as software and hardware aspects of that power. At the present time, and due to Washington’s recent threats, the rivalry between the two sides is sure to intensify in all hardware fields, especially in military and security areas.
From the viewpoint of American neoconservatives and a person like Bolton, who is currently the White House’s national security advisor, commitment of the US to international treaties and agreements is considered as a serious and limiting factor against the realization of the country’s national interests and “power projection” measures taken by the United States. The aforementioned agreement; that is, the INF, and possible withdrawal of the United States from it can be analyzed within this framework. In reality, China has made great economic breakthroughs during past decades and has been also able to boost its military capabilities in both conventional and unconventional or asymmetrical fields. On the other hand, the United States currently believes that during the time that Washington and even Moscow have remained committed to the INF, China has taken advantage of these conditions to improve its military capability, especially with regard to short- and medium-range missiles.
The concern that the United States has about this issue was reflected in the “Nuclear Posture Review,” which was released by the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, in February 2018. Referring to the changing security environment in the world and uncertainties that govern it, this 100-page document cites China’s current agendas and asserts that China continues to boost its nuclear capabilities and improve them. Two other strategic documents released by the United States have clearly mentioned China as a revisionist rival, which is considered a strategic rival for America. These documents include the National Security Strategy and the National Military Strategy of the United States. Both documents also noted that China is trying to create a deterrent force as part of its “power projection” measures by bolstering its missile power in the face of the American forces, which are stationed in the West Pacific region.
Consequences and roundup
On the whole, Washington is currently trying to add a military and security aspect to the ongoing rivalry between the United States and China. A major sign of this effort could be possible withdrawal from this important arms control treaty at a time that the two countries’ rivalry in trade and economic fields has been on the rise during past months and has escalated into a full-fledged economic war between Washington and Beijing. Possible withdrawal of the United States from this treaty will have the following consequences for China:
-The United States will have more latitude for its “power projection” measures in areas near China, especially in nearby seas, in order to reduce that country’s deterrence power and its increasing capability for developing short- and medium-range missiles;
-Washington will mount pressure on Beijing in the East China Sea and the South China Sea by increasing marine patrols in those areas; and
-This will be the beginning of a new process of selling conventional arms to the US allies in these regions and increased military support for Taiwan in order to use this country as a card for taking possible concessions from China in trade and economic fields.