Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: India, China and the INF Treaty


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Mains level: Recent trend of USA’s disregard of bilateral and multilateral treaties and its impact on India as well as global geopolitics


USA’s withdrawal from INF Treaty

  1. US President Donald Trump recently announced about American plans to withdraw from the three-decade-old missile treaty with Russia
  2. The treaty that Trump wants to discard is the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that was concluded in 1987 by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
  3. It has been hailed as one of the most important arms control agreements between Washington and Moscow

Provisions of the treaty

  1. Under the INF treaty, the US and Soviet Union agreed not to develop, produce, possess or deploy any ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles that have a range between 500 and 5,500 km
  2. It exempted the air-launched and sea-based missile systems in the same range

Importance of the treaty

  1. The INF treaty helped address the fears of an imminent nuclear war in Europe
  2. It also built some trust between Washington and Moscow and contributed to the end of the Cold War

Loopholes in the treaty

  1. It left the other nuclear weapon powers free to develop ground-based intermediate-range forces
  2. In the age of nuclear superpowers, it did not seem to matter
  3. Since then, many countries have developed missiles in the range of 500 to 5,500 km, including India, Pakistan and North Korea
  4. Nearly 90 per cent of China’s vast missile armoury — estimated at around 2,000 rockets — is in the intermediate range and would be illegal if Beijing were to be a part of the INF treaty

Root cause of USA’s withdrawal

  1. Although the US cites Russian violations of the INF treaty as the immediate cause for the withdrawal, coping with China’s massive rocket force appears to be the more important reason for the decision
  2. The expansive Chinese land-based intermediate range missile forces threaten the American naval ships deployed in the Western Pacific and target US military bases in Japan
  3. The vulnerability of American military presence in the Pacific to Chinese missiles, in turn, undermines the credibility of American security commitment to its Asian allies

Inclusion of China in the treaty

  1. In announcing the intent to withdraw, Trump said the only way to sustain the treaty is for Russia to stop the violations and China to join the INF treaty
  2. China has already rejected the proposition
  3. It has always refused to join the US-Russian arms control agreements

Impact of a pan-Asia INF treaty on India

  1. If the US deploys a new INF in Asia, to enhance its capacity to deter China, Beijing is bound to react
  2. The focus of a potential new arms race appears to be less on traditional nuclear-armed missiles, but precise hypersonic missiles (which travel at least five times the speed of sound) equipped with conventional warheads
  3. India has an effort underway on hypersonic missiles — part indigenous and part in collaboration with Russia to build on the supersonic Brahmos missiles that travel more than twice as fast as sound
  4. As the US conflict with Russia deepens, Delhi’s partnership with Moscow on advanced military systems will come under increasing scrutiny and pressure
  5. Russia’s tightening military embrace with China also casts a shadow over defence ties between Delhi and Moscow
  6. Delhi, then, will have to think long and hard about its missile programme by focusing on the urgent need to ramp up the domestic effort as well as diversify its international collaboration on hypersonic weapons

Way forward

  1. India needs a significant force of hypersonic missiles to better control escalation to the nuclear level if there is another Doklam-like military confrontation with China
  2. Delhi will also have to cope with the inevitable proliferation of hypersonic systems in its neighbourhood
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