INF Treaty and Pakistan

The instant death of the INF treaty has dissipated the decades-long arms control efforts.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987 during Cold War-era between the US and the Soviet Union (now Russia) has died as a consequence of withdrawal of both parties from the treaty, on the pretext of accusations hurled at each other for violating what the treaty had stipulated.

The treaty banned the US and Russia from fielding land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. It is now impossible to exaggerate what a dangerous cliff the world is perched on because it is likely to tip over into an arms race.

The weapon systems are deemed destabilising because they can hit their targets within 10 minutes; giving a narrow capaciousness to be warned and to make a decision. Therefore, it increases the chances of miscalculation and inadvertent use. The treaty demanded the dismantling of 2,692 missiles by both countries. It included verification mechanisms that paved the way for the future treaties on arms control and reduction. It also aided to reduce global nuclear stockpiles. Russia and the US hold over 90 per cent of the world’s total stockpiles and their withdrawal from this visionary treaty is ominous.

The instant death of the treaty has dissipated the decades-long arms control efforts. The bilateral withdrawal of the parties is a microcosm of changing the international strategic milieu, which would have far-reaching global implications.

Understandably, Russia was not the only concern for the US as a Pentagon report published in 2018 warned of Beijing drastically improving its cruise-missile arsenal, which could stymie the US warships to reach China’s coasts in the case of military combat. This had put the US at a disadvantage with China. However, China’s missiles are fitted with conventional warheads. Europe’s security, too, is at stake as the region can go back to the 1980s’ instability and the chances of nuclear escalation during conflicts have increased. An international alliance of 29 countries, spearheaded by the US and allies–the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)– however, says it does not possess any intention of using land-based nuclear systems during any conflict.

On August 19, 2019, the US Department of Defense announced it had tested a type of ground-launched missile, evidently banned under the INF. Thus, it gave a clear signal of commencement of a new era of unbridled nuclear weapon competition. Concomitantly, amidst soaring tensions between the US and Russia, China, too, has modernised its arsenal. International efforts aimed at nuclear non-proliferation are, unfortunately, ending in smoke as North Korea continues to pile up its nuclear arsenal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, aiming to ease economic sanctions on Iran in return of its nuclear capping, is also dead in the water. Since 2008, India has been enjoying the privileges of a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver, providing India with a carte blanche to extract benefits of nuclear trade from the members of the nuclear supplier states without any hindrance.

With many of its nuclear plants remaining outside the umbrella of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, an international organisation inhibiting nuclear proliferation, India is tantamount to making a laughing stock of the international efforts aimed at nuclear non-proliferation. The extinction of INF, however, also predicts a possible expiration of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), a nuclear arms reduction treaty signed between the US and Russia, in 2021.


The treaty banned the US and Russia from fielding land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. It is now impossible to exaggerate what a dangerous cliff the world is perched on because it is likely to tip over into an arms race


As India and Pakistan lack an efficient nuclear bilateral regime or are not under any other regional arms control regime, our region is consistently prone to the impacts of international developments like that of INF’s death.

India, unfortunately, has always opposed any type of bilateral regime related to strategic or conventional control with Pakistan because it has to take China factor into account. According to experts, we live in the “Second Nuclear Age” because the world has more than two nuclear powers, as opposed to the times witnessed during the early Cold War era. There is not any organised security structure in the present nuclear era at the global level. Consequently, many of the nuclear powers, including India and Pakistan, have to face various threats that eventually produce security “tri-lemma.”

In such a milieu, when a country improves its defences against another state, the act is perceived as a threat by the third state. The third state then takes measures to counter the perceived threat; as a result, insecurities of its adversary also grow. This model aptly applies to China, India, and Pakistan. China may take some steps with the purpose to bring some equilibrium in its security concerning the US by leaving India insecure. Indian response to this, in turn, will make Pakistan anxious, which would take actions to attenuate the imbalance produced by Indian actions.

Conspicuously, the death of INF will impact Pakistan. Pakistan’s security policy has always remained Indian-centric.

The non-existence of any bilateral arms control regime with India; ever-increasing deteriorating bilateral relations; the uncontrolled rise of Hindu nationalism with an extreme anti-Pakistan narrative, and intense turbulence in already dampened relations caused by the revocation of Kashmir’s special status will drag the region into further instability.

In such a scenario, Pakistan has to preserve its strategy to develop and maintain the policy of “credible minimum deterrence” that is technically workable as well as economically feasible and sustainable.

The writer is a visiting fellow at the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI)

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