The demise of the INF treaty between Russia and the United States (US) has drawn critical scrutiny. Whilst both Russia and the US have traded allegations and counter-allegations over responsibility for the demise of the INF treaty, global concerns mount about an intensified to nuclear arms race. The demise of the Treaty has further presaged the emergence of the ‘new’ Cold War (NCW) narrative. The question is whether the current Russia-US rivalry is indeed a NCW phase or is it a mere case of failed accommodation of interests by both the countries at the bilateral level. Also, the emergence of this New Cold War narrative for the West towards Russia is limited to its military resurgence. Interestingly, Russia too seem to accept this narrative. This could possibly because it elevates its position in the great power rivalry in par with the US despite its many drawbacks such as in its economic growth performance. Given these scenarios, it is crucial to evaluate the relevance of INF Treaty in today’s global context, and deconstruct the much hyped NCW narrative to evaluate the future scope of Russia-US relations and its likely impact on common partners such as India.
The demise of the Cold War era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) between Russia and the US on 02 August 2019 has presaged the emergence of the alleged ‘New’ Cold War (NCW) narrative besides drawing critical scrutiny. Whilst both Russia and the US have traded allegations over the demise of the treaty, international concerns are focussed on the possible emergence of a new and intensified nuclear arms race.
Revisiting the history on the relevance of the INF Treaty, the rivalry between the two superpowers during the Cold War period resulted in a nuclear arms race and took the world to the brink of a nuclear war. To dilute tensions, the former Soviet Union and the US signed the INF Treaty in 1987. The INF Treaty prohibited both the countries from deploying land-based missiles capable of travelling a distance of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
Despite the end of the Cold War, both Russia and the US continued to develop next generation missile programmes and new weapons systems. Additionally, there is a growing quest among developed and developing countries for military up-gradation to enhance power projection at both regional and global levels. Since the 2014 Ukraine Crisis and the emergence of a NCW narrative, world military expenditure among global players has grown enormously. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2018 report, military expenditure by countries today stands at 76 per cent higher than the post-Cold War low in 1998. For instance, the US military spending rose for the first time in seven years, to $649 billion in 2018. China increased its military expenditure by 5.0 per cent and India by 3.1 per cent. i
More importantly, the nuclear weapons stage is now crowded with multiple players including China, North Korea, France, United Kingdom, Pakistan, India and Israel as seen in the statistics presented in Figure.2, thus keeping the doomsday clock at 2 minutes to midnight.ii
Given these developments, it is important to understand the relevance of the treaty in the current geopolitical context. It is also essential to deconstruct the much hyped NCW narrative surrounding the future scope of Russia-US relations and its likely impact on common partners such as India.
The tensions between Russia and the US have been a constant worrisome factor for international community given its repercussions on world politics. An excerpt from the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the US released on 18 December 2017 explicitly stated that Russia’s political, economic and military resurgence alongside its nuclear and cyber capabilities is a crucial ‘existential’ threat to US interests.iii The Presidential speech delivered by Vladimir Putin on 01 March 2018 exhibited Russia’s growing stature in international affairs since the Soviet implosion. The key aspects of Russia’s revival highlighted in the speech included cyber tactics, military capabilities, and agricultural productioniv as having fortified its capability to overcome strategic uncertainty in recent times.
The crucial question is whether the current Russia-US rivalry is indeed a NCW or is it a mere bilateral hostility. Also, in the NCW narrative, the key question prodding the debate is whether Russia is ‘punching above its weight’ in the great power rivalry?
Russia’s resurging foreign policy measures in recent times are noteworthy as these have elevated its strategic standing in global politics. However, its foreign policy assertiveness is limited to its successful military diplomacy. The cost-effective military engagement in Syria and anti-Islamic State campaign has upgraded its military power projection in world affairs. However, unlike the Soviet era, Russia continues to struggle to achieve a comprehensive growth especially at the domestic level. During the Presidential address, Putin admitted that Russia faces major challenges in domestic indicators such as poverty, unemployment, demography, standard of living and others.v
The impositions of sanctions after the Ukraine crisis exposed the fragility of Russia’s economic growth. The fall in oil prices impacted Russia’s economy due to its large dependence on revenue from energy markets. In this situation, though the emergence of the NCW narrative in the West towards Russia is in fact restricted to its military rise interestingly, Russia too seems to accept this narrative. This could possibly be because the narrative elevates Russia’s position and image in international politics at par with the US despite its many drawbacks especially its less than optimal economic growth performance.
Nonetheless, Russia continues to remain a crucial challenger to US interests mainly as a military power and a global arms supplier. While the global trend suggests an increase in military expenditure as shown in Figure 1, Russia’s State Armament Programme (SAP) 2018-2027 has seen a trimming down of its defence budget, due to the impact on the economic growth post-economic sanctions. In the list for the highest military expenditure released by SIPRI in 2018, Russia’s position fell from fourth to sixth position in 2018.vi The SAP 2018-2027 aims to strengthen the basis of Russia’s defence procurement, military modernisation and military priorities until 2027. However, Russia remains the second largest exporter in global defence market.vii
The 2019 Victory Day parade at Red Square saw the display of advanced military equipment and artillery including for the first time unveiling of Uran-6 mine-clearing and Uran-9 fire support robotic vehicles, the Katran rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles and Korsar fixed-wing drones (carried on cargo platforms). The Russian National Guard demonstrated its Tigr, Patrul and Ural vehicles. A total of 75 aircraft and helicopters of Russia’s Aerospace Force flew over Moscow’s Red Square, including two latest Kinzhal airborne platforms (MiG-31 planes armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles).viii More recently, during MAKS international air show held in Zhukovskiy from 29 August- 01 September 2019, Russia showcased the export variant of its 5th Generation fighter aircraft Sukhoi 57E.
The growing stature of Russia in global politics alongside its focus on building stronger and new alliances with countries sharing similar interests and concerns has caused anxiety to the US. Russia has built new alliances through Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a range of Asian, African, West Asian countries and above all with China.
The strategic partnership between a rising global power China and military resurgence of Russia has posed a challenge to the supremacy of the US in international affairs. Developments such as US-China trade war and the growing US-Russia tensions have further pushed both Russia and China into each other’s arms mainly through defence cooperation, energy trade and engagement in multilateral organisations such as APEC, G20, BRICS, SCO and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Both Russia and China as strategic partners have begun to focus on building stronger and new alliances, mostly with long term partners of the US. The growing proximity between Russia and Pakistan in recent times is a case in point. The partnership with Pakistan not only fits well with Russia’s ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy but Pakistan fits well in the grand strategy of Russia and China that includes regional stability of Afghanistan, economic prospects, and energy security. Both Russia and China therefore aim to benefit from the geographical location and strategic relevance of Pakistan and this can only be possible by keeping Pakistan away from the US policy interests in Asian geopolitics in particular.
As strategic partners set to challenge the US-led international system, Russia and China are not just exploring strengths but are addressing each other’s limitations too. For instance, Russia provides for China’s power projection through defence cooperation. The sale of 24 Su-35 fighter aircrafts and S-400 air-defence missiles is an indicator of revamped defence cooperation between the two countries. China reciprocates with economic opportunities, huge market, investments and energy trade crucial to prevent Russia from sinking back to the dismal situation of the 1990s situation especially on its economic front.
Russia, China and other countries that share similar interests and concerns aim to create a ‘modified’ world order in which the geopolitical architecture is no longer monopolised and designed by the US. The advocacy for a multilateral world order, emergence of non-Western organisations such as BRICS and SCO and growing stature of developing countries have to a large extent challenged the current international system set by the West.
The US, on the other hand, seems to struggle to make a distinction between national priorities and global leadership. The call for ‘America First’ policy and growing unilateralism of the US such as the imposition of Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) has caused displeasure among its long-term partners and NATO allies such as Turkey. The case of Turkey being moved out of the F-35 fighter programme by the US and Turkey’s purchase of S400 missile defence system from Russia is an example of how conventional allies of the US may be drifting away.
The debate surrounding the NCW therefore requires critical attention given the emerging limitations of both the US and Russia. Some of the key factors that bolster this argument are:
The Case of India
The sharpening of tensions between Russia and the US, and the US’ unilateral actions, such as CAATSA, is likely to impact common partners like India which share close diplomatic relations with both the countries. Therefore, there is some uncertainty as India remains keen to retain long standing defence and trade ties with Russia and Iran respectively despite the imposition of sanctions by the US on entities which do business with both these countries.
Apart from India’s dependence on the Russian state-of-the-art weapons systems such as the S-400 anti-missile defence system, its predictable resistance to pressures from the US are based on three core factors:
Highlighting some of the joint defence production projects between India and Russia such as the BrahMos Missiles, and the proposal for manufacturing Kamov helicopters, Ilya Tarasenko, Director General of JSC Russian Aircraft Corporation ‘MiG’ had stated in an interview that MiG was ready to build the fighter planes in India under the transfer of technology at a competitive price in accordance with the requirement of ‘Make-in-India’ programme.x
The US’s unilateral approach of imposing sanctions will have negative implications in terms of maintaining India’s confidence in the partnership and in carrying forward its strategic interests in the region. Additionally, the implementation of CAATSA has implications for the military modernisation process of India as about two thirds of India’s defence purchases are from Russia. One needs to bear in mind that Russia has completed the delivery of the first regiment set of S-400 to China on 10 May 2018, thereby making China the sole recipient of S-400s in the Asian region for now. Though India has made the advance payment of $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) in October 2018 to Russia to buy five systems of this missile, the complete set of missile defence system would be delivered to India only by 2024 at the rate of one system a year, beginning 2020.xi Given the history of hostility between India and China, India needs to have possession of the S-400 systems as it is crucial for signalling and power projection in the region.xii
After the demise of the INF Treaty, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) remains the only existing treaty between the US and Russia related to nuclear arms control. In the alleged NCW narrative, Russia holds a strong bargaining position with the US given its military resurgence, upgraded missiles capabilities and nuclear arsenal. Formulating a Treaty favourable to both Russian and the US interests such as the renewal of the New START in 2021 will be a determining factor in the revival of Russia-US relations. Therefore, a huge task lies ahead for both Russia and the US for a potential compromise on defensive-offensive capabilities and to boost the confidence building measures. A stable Russia-US relationship would yield strategic pay offs not just for the two countries, but also for the global community at large, both in terms of geopolitics and geo-economics for ‘common’ partners like India. Given the fact that the hostility between Russia and the US will have repercussions beyond the bilateral level, the role of other major powers such as EU, China, India, will also be significant in matters related to global security and of nuclear arms control in particular.
Russia-US relations have been one of the key defining factors for the conduct of international relations and the foreign policy behaviour across the globe. It would be prudent for US and Russia to quickly fix their respective nuclear postures and work towards arms control to usher in stability in the global order.
* The Authoress, Research Fellow at Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the Researcher and not of the Council.
i SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, April 2019. Pg.1 https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/fs_1904_milex_2018.pdf August 31, 2019.
iii National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, December 2017. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf accessed on 19 January 2018.
iv Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, President of Russia, 01 March 2018. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56957 accessed on 02 March 2018.
ix Chandra Rekha, “Inaugural 2+2 Dialogue between India and the US: Ironing out the Potential Wrinkles in Relations on account of CAATSA”, View Point, ICWA, 05 September 2018. https://icwa.in/pdfs/vp/2014/indiauscaatsavp05092018.pdf
xNayanima Basu, ‘We are ready to manufacture the MiG-35 in India’, The Hindu BusinessLine, 26 April 2019, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/we-are-ready-to-manufacture-the-mig-35-in-india/article23686771.ece
xi Sandeep Unnithan, “Why the IAF wants the S-400 missile”, India Today Insight, 16 July 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/why-the-iaf-wants-the-s-400-missile-1569823-2019-07-16
xii Chandra Rekha, “19th Annual Bilateral Summit 2018: Where India-Russia relations stand today”, DailyO, 03 October 2018. https://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-russia-relations-19th-bilateral-annual-summit-2018-narendra-modi-vladimir-putin-energy/story/1/27043.html