STRASBOURG – Members of the European Parliament are concerned by US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) treaty with Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to reciprocate and his subsequent order to Moscow’s strategic rocket forces to develop and deploy new weapons systems near Europe’s borders has forced European lawmakers into calling for a coordinated EU response as the short and medium range missiles that will no longer be banned as a result of the treaty’s collapse would mostly affect Europe.
“The damage will arrive in Europe before to those who are breaking the treaty,” European Peoples Party Vice President Esteban González Pons from Spain told New Europe, who called for a joint EU statement on the matter.
On February 14, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the future of the INF Treaty and the impact on the EU. MEPs noted that the more than three-decades-old INF Treaty contributed to containing strategic competition between the US and the Soviet Union, and subsequently Russia, and to building and reinforcing stability in the Cold War era.
They stressed that Europe has been the principal beneficiary of the INF Treaty, which has been fundamental in upholding its security since it was signed in the heady days of the late 1980s when there was more trust between the West and Moscow.
The INF Treaty first to into being when US President Ronald Reagan, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the agreement on December 8, 1987. The move was part of their effort to eliminate intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.
In October of last year, however, Trump, who has been dogged for more than two years by widespread allegations that he colluded with Russia to get elected in 2016, heeded to the impulses of the isolationist ideologues in his administration and announced that the US would withdraw from the treaty, citing Russia’s non-compliance and China’s non-participation.
His decision was closely in line with the policy views of those in the White House who generally disregard international treaties and who are spearheading an internal campaign to convince Trump to take the US out of the NATO military alliance.
NATO’s Foreign Ministers had hoped to head off Trump’s drive to scuttle the treaty by issuing a statement in December 2018 that acknowledged Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty and calling on Moscow to return to its full compliance as a matter of urgency.
Russia, however, did little quell the fears of the EU and announced shortly after Trump walked away from the agreement that it would suspend the INF Treaty and develop new types of missiles.
Tensions between the two sides have been rising in recent years as the West has grown concerned about reports that Russia has deployed tactical and short-range nuclear weapons to Crimea, the Ukrainian regions that it invaded and illegally annexed from Kyiv in March 2014.
NATO officials have also grown increasingly leery of Moscow’s strategic rocket forces in Kaliningrad, Russia’s strategic Baltic exclave between NATO-members Poland and Lithuania, where the Kremlin has multiple Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems.
Those concerns have been further compounded by recent reports that Putin has attempted to strong-arm Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko into allowing Russia to build a new state-of-art air force base inside Belarus’ borders, one which could serve as a forward operating radar base for Moscow’s nuclear missile batteries.
Russian defence ministry and intelligence officials have repeatedly raised concerns over NATO’s development of an early warning radar system in Eastern Europe, one that can detect missile launches from the Persian Gulf to the White Sea
Europe’s parliamentarians have reacted to the heated rhetoric between the White House and Kremlin by expressing on February 14 deep concern at the breaches of the Treaty, and the subsequent moves by the US and Russia to disregard the core tenets of nuclear arms control
The EU is dismayed by the rapid turn of events as its most vital security interests, as well as its security and peace, hinge on the world’s two largest nuclear powers to uphold their commitments to halting the deployment and development of nuclear weapons.
Chief amongst Europe’s fears, according to most EU parliamentarian, is the concern that the reactions of both Moscow and Washington might result in a miscalculation that leads to the fundamental deterioration of relations between the US and Russia. Europe, which would be rendered militarily powerless under such a scenario, worries that this would mean an inevitable escalation of tensions and heightened nuclear and military threats with the advent of a new and even more destabilising arms race.
At press conferences at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on February 12, New Europe asked the European Parliamentarians about the two sides’ decision to walk away from the INF treaty.
S&P President Udo Bullmann said a withdrawal from the INF treaty is a major threat to the security of Europe. “My Group (the S&P) is very worried about the developments and, of course, we know that the last decades of peace in Europe were also due to the fact that we had a clear cut arrangement for short and medium range missiles and we have to do everything to keep developments under control. That is our appeal to Moscow, as well as towards Washington,” Bullmann said, adding that Europeans must be united so that the EU does not once again become “a battleground for single-minded strategies which do not respect our peoples’ hope for peace.”
German MEP Elmar Brok acknowledged that the INF withdrawal would affect Europe but reminded that INF is treaty between Russia and the US. “Both are free to do what they want. But I believe the Americans should have had better consultations with us instead of just saying ‘no’. To go out of the treaty is a very big mistake that is very welcomed by Putin because, if there is no treaty, then there is no Russian obligation anymore. The Americans have given up too easily on the Russian’s obligations. Therefore, I believe, this decision to leave the treaty is a political mistake.”
For his part, ALDE President Guy Vernofstadt said his group is also worried due to the fact that they are concerned about the prospect of “putting nuclear missiles in Europe. All of this was avoided by the INF treaty. So what we see is a return back into the past with this decision,” Vernofstadt said.
Vernofstadt also said the EU should have a clear position on this issue and reiterated his belief that “the rule of unanimity in these cases of foreign affairs has to be abolished as fast as possible, otherwise we will never be able to take any position in these talks and everything will be decided above our head by the Americans and Russians.”
Greens/EFA co-Presidents Philippe Lamberts from Belgium and Ska Keller from Germany also expressed their dismay at the situation. “The US withdrawal from the INF treaty following alleged breaches to the INF treaty by Russia are things that are posing major concerns for us,” Lamberts said.
He went on to reiterate that his group’s opposition to nuclear weapons and called for arms control and nuclear disarmament. “This is a step on the opposite direction which we cannot possibly condone…we are gravely concerned that the sabre-rattling that we see from both Russia and the United States is not helping.”
Keller pointed out that there is already an anti-nuclear initiative on the table. In 2017, the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
“We call on the European Union member states to finally ratify this treaty because it’s a bit ridiculous when the governments say, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do and it’s so bad,’ and they refuse this treaty that we already have on the table and calls for a ban on all nuclear arms,” Keller said.