US Withdrawal from, and Russia’s Suspension of, the INF Treaty: The Implications for Nigeria


INF is Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces. The INF Treaty is the short form for the “Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles.” It was initially done on December 8, 1987 and entered into force on June 1, 1988.

Following the policies of Glasnost (openness in the context of government transparency and increased freedom of expression) and Perestroika (restructuring) by party Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev and the eventual self-dismantlement and collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), also simply referred to as Soviet Union, the bilateral character of the INF Treaty became multilateral with the accession of former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in 1992.

The agreement is one of many others done to maintain international peace and security, especially in Europe, but life is being taken out of the treaty with the mutual disregard for it by the signatories. The United States decided to withdraw its commitment to INF Treaty on February 1, 2019. In the same vein, Russia also suspended its own obligations resulting from the treaty the following day.

Without doubt, the signing of the INF Treaty was largely informed by two sets of consideration. The first is a resultant of the principle of sanctity of agreements, requiring absolute compliance with obligations created by agreements voluntarily contracted. In this regard, Article VI of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is here relevant. Secondly, the US and the Soviet Union were mindful of the devastating consequences of any nuclear war for all mankind. This consideration necessarily required the quest to ensure strategic stability, as well as seek to prevent the risk of outbreak of war. Put differently, the need to ensure an environment that would be conducive to the strengthening of international peace and security, was a desideratum.

From this perspective, the INF Treaty is important because of its objective and operational coverage. In terms of objective, the treaty seeks mutual protection and security, especially strategic stability in Europe. The treaty banned the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe, meaning that both signatories guaranteed a nuclear missile-free European territory.
In terms of coverage, it covers deployed and non-deployed ground-based short-range missiles with an extent of between 500 and 1000 km. It also covered deployed and non-deployed ground-based intermediate-range missiles with the capacity of between 1000 and 5,500 km. These missiles were not to be deployed and therefore were to be destroyed.
And true enough, both the US and the former Soviet Union kept to the spirit and obligations of the treaty. In 1991, the Soviet Union destroyed 1,846 missiles while the United States destroyed 846 missiles. All inspection activities stopped in May 2001. With the destruction on both sides, it means that, before the destruction of the missiles, the Soviet Union was already more militarised than the United States in this area of ground-based short- and intermediate range missiles.

The problem, however, began in 2014 when the United States accused Russia of non-compliance with the obligations of the treaty and Russia similarly began not only to explain its own side of the issue but also accused the United States of unfaithfulness to the same INF Treaty. President Vladimir Putin of Russia made it clear that Russia is not interested in any new arms race with the United States. However, Russia is being forced against its will to engage in an arms race with the United States. In this regard, President Putin declared: ‘naturally, we are not going to turn a blind eye to the deployment of American missiles, which present threat to our (Russia) security… We will have to take effective counter-measures.’ In fact, the Russian government made efforts to organise a briefing session for the diplomatic community in its capital on the fate of the Treaty and on the present situation on the banned short- and intermediate- range land-based missiles. The US diplomats ignored the briefing session and simply said it wanted to withdraw from the obligations of the Treaty.

And true enough, the accusations and counter-accusations reached their crescendo on Friday, February 1, 2019 when the United States announced its intention to withdraw its commitment to the INF Treaty with effect from the following day, Saturday, February 2, 2019. The United States gave six months’ notice of complete withdrawal. On this same day, Russia reciprocally announced the suspension of the INF Treaty, meaning that there is no longer any control of nuclear missiles, with the exception of the 2010 New Start Treaty which still limits the deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to only 1,550 and which is also expected to expire in 2021. Will this treaty be renewed or not, especially in light of the deepening disagreement over the INF Treaty?

In this regard, President Donald Trump not only gave Russia 180 days to quickly destroy its violating missiles and launchers in order to avoid new arms race, but also declared as follows: ‘we (United States) will move forward with developing our own military response options’ to Russia’s suspect missiles. This declaration could be explained and understood against US suspicions that, far back in 2013, Russia had already developed a new ground-launched cruise missile contrary to the obligations contracted within the framework of the INF Treaty.

Without doubt, Russia had developed a new ground-launched cruise missile but denied any infraction on the basis of the obligations of the INF Treaty. Russia submitted that the range of its cruise missile was not up to what was prohibited. This argument cannot be waved aside simply because missiles that were prohibited, both shorter and intermediate, were between 500 and 5,500 km range. The implication is that any missile with a range outside what is banned may not be illegal.
US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said countries must be held accountable when they break the rules. Russia has jeopardised the United States’ security interests, and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.’ More interestingly, Donald Trump has it that his administration is ‘committed to effective arms control that advances United States, allied, and partner security, is verifiable and enforceable, and includes partners that fulfil their obligations.’

In the eyes of the United States, Russia is certainly one of the partners that do not fulfil their obligations. In the eyes of the Russians, the culprit is the United States. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Sergei Ryabkov, accused the United States of producing armed drones that were the equivalent of the prohibited land-launched cruise missiles. The Americans refuted the allegation and argued that they are surely not missiles, and therefore, the armed drones do not constitute an infringement of the INF Treaty. In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump said the United States had ‘followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms. That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the INF treaty.’
Russians argued that the United States have developed new missiles and do have the intention to deploy them in Europe. Such deployment ‘will be a crisis of security for the European countries.’ In this regard, Mr. Ryabkov, on Thursday, February 13, 2019, warned the Washingtonian authorities not to deploy any medium-range missiles near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe. He underscored the possible consequences of deploying weapons in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as doing so would have violated the INF Treaty from which the United States had withdrawn.

As the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister actually put it: I will make every possible effort to stop the United States from deploying missiles. I am sure that everyone who is somehow involved in our foreign policy, defense, and security activities will work as a team to prevent a situation that would mean everything that was a cornerstone of European security for decades has perished.’ The first import of this warning is that, if the United States is prevented from deploying any medium-range nuclear weapons near its own borders and the Russian shorter and intermediate-range cruise missiles can reach European territory, then the whole of Europe can expect to be frontally faced with nuclear weapon insecurity in the foreseeable future.

What is also important to note about the foregoing is that both countries have truly not kept to the spirit of the treaty. They are both rearming. The accusations of one against the other, as well as the counter-allegations are nothing more than politics to which all African countries, especially Nigeria, should pay special attention for various reasons. First, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and II), Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as the various non-nuclearisation accords signed by many countries, are nothing more than fraudulent agreements consciously done by the powerful countries to give the impression to the whole world that they are much interested in the maintenance of international peace and security, but which is not always true.

Whereas, the truth of the matter is that, when weapons, arms, their launchers, etc, become obsolete in the light of development of new ones, the major powers quickly come together and negotiate, as well as sign agreements that will only allow for the destruction of the irrelevant weapons but without stopping the development of new and more powerful weapons.
And perhaps more unfortunately, developing countries are consciously denied the sovereign right to have access to the development of nuclear capability under the guise of their non-capacity and capability to manage the effects of possible nuclear explosion. The extent to which the powerful countries accept the non-nuclear powers to develop nuclear capability is limited only to peaceful uses, even though the processes of developing nuclear capability for purposes of war and peace are the same.

Now that the fate of the INF Treaty has become uncertain, how is Africa going to be affected? Come 2020, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference is expected to take place. What is the position of African countries? How is Nigeria preparing for this under the new administration? Strategic scholars have pointed to the likelihood of the United States deploying the Precision strike Missile, which is said to be similar to the Russian Iskander-M ballistic missile with a range exceeding the previously announced 500 km. The development of another land-based cruise missile of the JASSM family that currently exists in air-launched versions has also been initiated.

In this regard, what and where is the place of Nigeria and Africa? Why should some countries arrogate the right of development of nuclear weapons to the detriment of others? The possibility of a World War III is no longer ruled out. In the event of another World War, how will African countries align? Will African countries be free from nuclear attacks? What really is and should be the correct approach to the international politics of non-nuclearisation?

Africa and Nuclear Non-proliferation Politics
South Africa is probably the first country in Africa to have developed nuclear weapon with the assistance of the United States. The nuclear programme began in 1974 as an anti-Soviet project within the framework of the Cold War politics. It was for deterrence. In this regard, South Africa constructed six gun-type nuclear weapons. However, in less than ten years after the development, the Government of South Africa voluntarily abandoned the project and acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon State in 1991. The initiative coincided with the beginning of the post Cold War era which ended in December 1989.

It is useful to note that the origins of the nuclear programme is traceable to 1948 when the South African government established the Atomic Energy Board, a precursor to the Atomic Energy Corporation, to develop the uranium mining and trade industry. In 1957, South Africa signed a 50-year nuclear collaboration agreement with the United States which enabled South Africa to acquire a nuclear reactor and the supply of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. The nuclear reactor and 90% HEU fuel were delivered by an American company, Allis Chalmers Corporation, to South Africa and were located in Pelindaba, near Pretoria, in 1965.

In 1967, South Africa succeeded in constructing its own reactor, called Safari-2, the first, being the US-assisted reactor.
Both reactors were located in Pelindaba. As noted by the, ‘in 1969 South Africa abandoned the critical assembly at Pelindaba and the heavy water reactor project because it was draining resources from the uranium enrichment programme initiated in 1967. Additionally, President F.W. de Klerk made it clear that between 1989 and 1994, his government developed ‘a limited nuclear deterrent capability’ as early as 1974.

Today, the nuclear programme belongs to history but the knowledge of it does not. In other words, the abandonment of the nuclear project has not denied South Africa of its technological know-how and its use for other purposes, including peaceful uses, and eventually for belligerent purposes if there is a new Cold War. The situational reality of Russo-American relations, and especially in the context of the Venezuelan election saga, is a clear pointer to a new Cold War in the making. But what is the place of Nigeria in these international strategic calculations?
The attitudinal disposition of Nigeria to the NPT is interesting: total elimination of nuclear weapons but which the nuclear weapons States are consciously opposed to, as clearly demonstrated in their clear quest for nuclear rearmament in spite of its prohibition by the INF Treaty. As explained by Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Offices and other International Organisations in Geneva, Ambassador Audu Kadiri, on August 30, 2018, for us in Nigeria, ‘the nuclear weapons option was never contemplated in the first place. Nigeria’s basic position has always been that, as long as nuclear weapons exist, they constitute a threat to international security and, indeed, all of humanity.’

More important, Ambassador Kadiri also had it that ‘for avoidance of doubt, the moral watershed in the clarion call for the non-proliferation and eventual elimination of the weapons of extreme terror, is the recognition that no one could claim to be safe and secure as long as there exists thousands of nuclear warheads, while others are making spirited efforts to acquire or produce more of these lethal arsenal.’ And perhaps most importantly, he explained that ‘Nigeria holds the view that the most effective and credible guarantee against the threat of the use of nuclear weapons lies in their complete and total elimination through a verifiable and irreversible programme of global disarmament.’

From the analysis of the positions of South Africa and Nigeria as case studies, both countries support nuclear non-proliferation treaty. In the specific case of Nigeria, the Government, does not only support the de-alerting initiative as a confidence building measure and as a pragmatic approach to disarmament but also prefers the outright elimination of all nuclear weapons. Most unfortunately, however, Nigeria’s position is the ideal, but international politics does not care much about what is ideal. International politics is the defence of the national interest through diplomacy by negotiation or diplomacy by gun boat. A country either struggles to qualify to join the Nuclear Weapons States or it accepts a dependentist and followership personality on them. There is no middle option between the two.

Most unfortunately, Nigeria’s current position is that of followership and dependency which does not and cannot guarantee national security in the event of a new international conflagration. By virtue of Nigeria’s foreign policy towards Africa, by virtue of its economy being the biggest, its press being the most vibrant, and its people being the most populous, there is no good reason why Nigeria’s military should not be the best quantitatively and qualitatively speaking. Nigeria’s military should be the strongest in all ramifications. In terms of conventional weapons and nuclear arsenals, under no circumstance should Nigeria be lagging behind and be dependent. Acquisition of nuclear capability for peaceful uses is self-defeatist. What is ideal for Nigeria is also to acquire the development skills required for the management of nuclear disasters. If the possession of nuclear weapons can be good for some countries, it should also be good for Nigeria. There should not be any good reason to stop or impede Nigeria’s scientific development, more so that a new Cold War is in the making. Nigeria’s policy of non-alignment must be largely predicated on a nuclear-capability driven military. Nigeria should seek to be a Nuclear Weapon State. This is how Nigeria can earn international respect.

True, the world will be hostile but that is what other countries have been doing and have also succeeded in imposing themselves. France and China did it the same way in 1963 and 1968. North Korea is another example. The cases of Pakistan and India are not different. If Russia and the United States are improving on their nuclear arsenals and have opted to set aside their INF Treaty, what good logic is there for Nigeria to be respecting an NPT that only relegates Nigeria to the secondary and dependent category of militarily weak countries?

Nigeria should acquire both nuclear capacity and nuclear capability for both peace and war purposes and then, consistent with her policy of foreign policy of non-alignment, determine when to use it for peaceful purposes. This is necessary because the Nuclear Weapons States want to continue to wax stronger while seeking to strengthen the weaknesses and poverty of other sovereign States. Even if the principle of sovereign equality is more of an aberration in international practice, it is only when Nigeria can authoritatively assert and reassert herself in the comity of nations that her own claim of sovereign equality can be meaningful. Consequently, the politics of destroying old weapons and developing newer and more powerful nuclear missiles, and also preaching the sermon of nuclear non-proliferation to other countries like Nigeria, is height of international fraud to which Nigeria should not be allowed to subscribe.