Will the INF Treaty do any good?

Philip Towle

The treaty abolishing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, signed on 8 December 1987, should lead to the destruction within three years of 2800 ground-launched missiles with ranges of between five hundred and five thousand kilometres. But if the facts are not in dispute, the implications of the agreement in terms of the military and political relationships between the super-powers are still far from clear.

Arms-control treaties are supposed to serve three ends: to reduce the destructiveness of war should it take place, to minimise the cost of defence, and to increase the odds against war breaking out. The INF Treaty can be largely dismissed as a way of lessening the destructiveness of nuclear war. The USA has some 13,800 strategic warheads and the Soviets over ten thousand. Even the disappearance of 2800 missiles will not remove Soviet and American ability to lay waste most of the Northern hemisphere. Only if the superpowers succeed this year in agreeing on the strategic arms-limitation treaty in which they plan to halve the number of their warheads will they substantially reduce their nuclear firepower.

The economic effects of the INF Treaty are more difficult to discern. Since both the USA and USSR were planning to manufacture more missiles of the now prohibited types, they will be able to save on the procurement of these particular weapons, as they will on the completion of airfields where the missiles were to be stationed, and on the forces which would have operated them. On the other hand, the actual process of destroying the INF will be costly, as will the monitoring teams which will spend the next 13 years making sure that all INF have been destroyed and not replaced. A small army of inspectors is going to be needed and they will have to be provided with the facilities to case their task. To take one example out of hundreds: the Hercules Company near Utah, which has been building engines for Pershing missiles, will have to build a new road all the way round the plant so that the Soviets can patrol it and ensure that no engines are being smuggled out.

Much more important is the question of whether the states involved will produce other weapons to take the place of the disappearing INF or simply re-deploy their forces. They might, for example, maintain the level of nuclear forces around Europe by sending more aircraft, such as F111s, from the USA or by keeping a nuclear role for their aircraft, as the Dutch plan to do with their F16s and P3s, which they would otherwise have abandoned. They might also locate more air and sea-launched cruise missiles in Europe, since it is only ground-launched missiles which are banned. Whether this could entail considerable further expense would depend on whether it would mean re-deploying existing weapons or whether extra ones would be manufactured.

Each side could also conclude that the INF agreement requires them to spend more on their conventional or dual-capable forces. As far as new weapons are concerned, the difficulty in each case is to decide whether they would have appeared even without an INF treaty. Newspapers have already suggested that US F15E aircraft might come to Britain in 1992 to replace the cruise missiles from Greenham Common and Molesworth. Would these be additional aircraft, or would they simply be ones which the USA would have bought anyway, but would otherwise have kept on the far side of the Atlantic? After the INF agreement the British and French Governments talked about developing an air launched cruise missile to extend the range of Mirage and Tornado aircraft. But such a weapon would very probably have been funded even without the disappearance of cruise and Pershing missiles. Warsaw Pact airfields are now so heavily defended that the RAF long ago recognised that it would be unwise for Tornados to drop their bombs while over the targets. Some sort of stand-off weapon was needed: INF has probably only strengthened the case, and perhaps increased the urgency of the decision.

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