Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has warned Russia that it is at risk of China’s medium-range missiles. Her comments come on the backdrop of America and Russia pulling out from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The problem with the INF treaty
The INF treaty was signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1987 during the end of the Cold War. The agreement explicitly banned the development of ground-based missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km. However, U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia’s Novator 9M729 is a cruise missile with a range that exceeds 500 km, effectively violating the INF treaty.
Since Russia refused to destroy these weapons, America had no choice but to pull out from the agreement on February 2 of this year. “For far too long, Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad,” Trump said in a statement (QZ). Russia followed suit and also withdrew from the treaty on March 4.
Since China has a sizeable stockpile of medium-range missiles and is also developing many new ones, Ursula suggested that Russia might want to rethink their stand about INF. Since the treaty would bind the signatories to not develop any missiles with a range of more than 500 km, Russia will be able to keep China’s missile development program under close international supervision and prevent Beijing from being a security threat in the future.
But this also means that Russians themselves have to give up on their Novator 9M729 missiles. However, Moscow seems not too keen on this route and is apparently under the illusion that the Chinese are not a threat to their country. Russia’s desire for obtaining missiles that could reach Europe and the U.S. is essentially allowing China to develop missiles that could reach any part of Russia.
German diplomat Heiko Maas believes that China’s reluctance for signing the INF treaty is one of the major reasons why neither Russia nor America wants to honor the agreement anymore. After all, if Beijing has a free-hand in developing any kind of missile under the guise of national security, there is literally no reason why Moscow or Washington should think along the same lines. Hence, the only way for the INF treaty to come back into relevance is by making the Chinese sign the treaty along with Russia and the U.S.
China’s missile threat
According to estimates, almost 95 percent of Chinese missiles have a range of 500 km to 5,500 km. This effectively puts U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea at risk. Key U.S.defense facilities in these nations could be targeted by Beijing anytime they want and American forces will find it difficult to take them down.
The INF treaty had limited U.S. ability to counter Chinese missiles. But with Trump pulling the U.S. out of it, such limitations will soon be history. “Assuming there is no renegotiation or compromise with Russia, a pullout from Washington would remove a number of constraints on the conventional weapons that it can deploy in the East Asian theater,” J. Berkshire Miller, a senior visiting fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo, said to Japan Times.
Beijing has also deployed intermediate ballistic missiles in the north-west region of the country. The missiles, named DF-26, can carry a wide range of warheads, both conventional and nuclear. They are said to be capable of sinking U.S. ships entering the South China Sea.