WITH the US walking out of the Open Skies Agreement, the US is signalling to the world that it intends to return to days of Pax Americana that existed post Second World War, when it was the sole possessor of nuclear weapons. It has already walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 under George Bush Junior, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) under Trump. The only nuclear arms control treaty that still remains in place, is New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which provides a rough limit and parity on the US and Russia’s nuclear arsenals. Its days also seem to be numbered, as it expires on February 5, 2021, leaving very little time for any serious discussions.
Trump administration is now talking of new nuclear tests violating the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or CTBT. So that is another treaty destined for the waste paper basket. This is apart from other nuclear arms treaties that the US signed with other States such as North Korea and Iran, and subsequently tore up unilaterally.
Marshall Billingslea, who is the US official arms control negotiator, has talked about how the US intends to spend Russia and China into oblivion, as it had done with Soviet Union earlier. Obviously, as an arms control negotiator, he is a fitting successor to Bolton, whose chief claim to fame is wielding a hammer to smash all arms control agreements.
The US is also weaponising space, and has a new Space Command. Last year, Trump, speaking in Pentagon, said, “A space-based missile defence layer… is going to be a very, very big part of our defence…And obviously of our offence.”
So what is the Open Skies Agreement? The treaty permits all its 35 signatories – the US, Russia and other NATO allies – to fly over each other’s territories. Effectively, it allows official military reconnaissance flights.
So why does the US want to exit a treaty that makes it possible to launch surveillance flights over Russia? This is a question that even the military experts are hard put to answer. One reason given is that the US has complete imaging capabilities over Russia using its satellites, and does not need this old fashioned aircraft based methods. Therefore the US is denying Russia overflights over its territory in the belief that Russia will not be able to match the US space based surveillance capabilities. And if it tries to match the US, back to the Billingslea-Trump game that the US will either win the new weapons war, if not, then the economic war. But war it is.
There is also a second target of the US in walking out of the Open Skies Agreement. European countries are very much a part of this agreement, not just the US. The US did not even talk to its NATO allies about its decisions to abandon this Agreement. The US wants to deny any strategic independence to its NATO allies. If the Open Skies Agreement now fails, as Russia has no incentive to offer other NATO countries overflights when it has none over the US, other NATO allies will be even more dependent on the US for information. This is strike as much against its own NATO allies as against Russia.
On the starting negotiations on the New START, Trump and Billingslea talked about bringing in China in order to limit its nuclear arsenal as well. This was also one of the arguments given when the US abandoned the INF Treaty.
So let us look at the respective nuclear arsenals of countries. Currently, the United States and Russia have more than 6,000 total nuclear warheads each, while China has about 300 (figures from Arms Control Association’s Factsheet July, 2019). So any agreement that brings in China can only increase its voluntary limit and not reduce it! Just for the record, France also has 300, with the UK at 200, and India and Pakistan around 150 each. Israel has about a 100, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has about 30.
If we sum up, the US believes that since the 90’s, it is the sole global hegemon. Any arms control treaty hinders the exercise of its military might. It recognises that it can no longer control the global economy, where China is already in the process of overtaking it, give or take a decade or two. A trade agreement that follows the rules, even if the rules were put in place in the 90s by the US and its allies in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), no longer helps the US. Faced with competition not only from China, but a range of other countries, it has fallen back on its military power as its key “bargaining” strategy: agree to what we say or else! And if you try to match us militarily, we will bankrupt you as we did with the Soviet Union.
Without entering into the discussion on, if the myth of Soviet collapse due to competing militarily with the US is correct, let us look at what options do Russia and China have. Putin has made clear that Russia will not accept that the US can become the global overlord, and dictate to it and other countries. The Yeltsin period of US dominance over Russia still rankles. Neither will China.
The US change in tack with respect to China is a part of what is now being called hybrid war – military threats coupled with economic actions – to inflict enough damage so that China is forced to sue for peace, accepting its subordinate status.
That is why China and Russia have come together. China’s economic strength and Russia’s military prowess provides a formidable opposition to US dominance. Russia’s technology strength in missiles, submarines, and radar have always been cutting edge. The S-400 defence shields with radar arrays and defensive missiles are still the best in the world and the reason that even the US allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are procuring it. China is probably the world leader in artificial intelligence and quantum communications. So when it comes to competition, they are not as far behind as the US seems to believe. And the US policies in the last 30 years have cemented Russia-China ties at a much deeper level than in the past.
Russia and China do not plan to copy the US strategy of global dominance, or competing with the US. For them, the ability to inflict sufficient damage on the US is deterrence enough. So they are not going to make the mistake of matching the US military spending dollar by dollar. Putin’s strategy is to develop weapons that can inflict maximum damage at a minimum cost. In other words, develop a strategy for asymmetric war. This is what the six new Russian weapons that Putin unveiled last year are: from hypersonic weapons to new generation of ballistic missiles.
The difference between the two approaches is their strategic visions. For the US it is spelt out in its various strategic documents: it needs to militarily dominate every region in the world. Any country that challenges the US, even controlling its own sea coast, is a revisionist power. This requires not strategic parity but overwhelming superiority. In today’s day and age, this is well beyond any country’s military reach.
The world is entering perhaps the most dangerous period it ever has, not only because of climate change and Covid-19 pandemic. The nuclear arms race is taking place with the US belief that it is winnable. Abandoning all arms control agreements with one excuse or the other is not simply the aberration of a Trump or a Bush, but very much built into the genetic makeup of the US and its belief of US exceptionalism.
The future of all nations is either surrender to the rule of the hegemon or allow a global nuclear arms race. This is Trump’s nuclear doctrine and with its consequences for all of us. Why then, are all countries silent? Is the future of humanity a concern only of the US, Russia and China?
This is why the urgent need for the global peace movement to revive. People everywhere have to fight for peace. It is not just Russia or China that are at risk, but the whole of humanity.