ONE of the most dangerous aspects of the Cold War was the ever-present threat of nuclear conflict between the US and the Soviet Union.
Though both superpowers thankfully never actually had a nuclear exchange, there were a few close calls (eg the Cuban Missile Crisis) that highlighted the threat the weapons posed to world peace.
While the threat of nuclear war subsided considerably after the fall of the USSR, the current chaos in the international sphere has sparked fears that a renewed arms race between the US and Russia may be in the works. This is thanks in part to the haphazard policies of the Trump administration.
Last week, the US announced it was ‘suspending’ the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated with the Soviets in 1987, and would withdraw from it entirely in six months if Moscow continued with its ‘violations’ of the agreement. Russia has replied in kind, with the Kremlin saying it is also suspending the accord and considering a withdrawal from the pact.
Brinksmanship may well be the new normal in international politics. However, when this brinksmanship entails the possible use of nuclear weapons, the entire global community — as well as saner elements in Washington and Moscow — must step in to prevent sabre-rattling between these nuclear-armed foes deteriorating into something more sinister. Instead of jettisoning such treaties, they must be strengthened to prevent the menace of nuclear weapons from spreading.
As some experts have noticed, the US move may encourage China to ramp up its own weapons programme.
As it is, the world today is a very dangerous place; the last thing needed is a fresh arms race involving global nuclear powers.
Read more: Russia plans new missile systems
While US-Russia relations are going through a low phase, it would be a bad idea to return to the mutual hostility seen during the Cold War. Mr Trump’s presidency has been marked by the US withdrawing from a number of bilateral or multilateral deals — the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and now the treaty with Russia.
Washington is sending the message to the international community that it is fickle about honouring its global commitments and can withdraw from them anytime on the slightest pretext.
In the interest of global stability, sane voices within the American establishment must provide better counsel to Mr Trump and advise him to work with the Russians towards saving the nuclear treaty, instead of pursuing the path of confrontation with Moscow.
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2019