Temporary Truce or Ticking Time Bomb? US-Russia Standoff Over Missiles in Asia-Pacific

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The Pentagon’s open display of its capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region for the rapid deployment of missile weapons that were previously prohibited under the Intermediate-range and Shorter-range Missiles (INF)Treaty has sparked significant concern in Moscow. The United States is ensuring its military superiority over its adversaries by bringing an entire class of destabilizing weapons out of the shadows.

In April, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, told the media, “Such steps represent another powerful blow to strategic stability. Asia has already accumulated a lot of «hot» material, and the region is rapidly militarizing. The United States is purposefully escalating the level of military confrontation and fueling hotbeds of tension. They are creating new closed groupings and military-political alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. Thus, Washington is trying to return the world to the darkest times of the Cold War and balancing on the brink of a nuclear conflict.

“The deployment of intermediate-range missiles by the Pentagon will be a dark day for international security. Let me remind you that the unilateral moratorium on the deployment of INF, declared by Russia, has clear conditions: we will not deploy such systems until similar U.S.-made systems appear in any region of the world.”

This issue was folowed up by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an interview with Rossiya Segodnya on May 30. He said the deployment of U.S. ground-launched intermediate and shorter-range missiles (IRBMs) in Europe and Asia Pacific poses significant security challenges for Russia. “We will not hesitate to respond if the Americans move forward with their plans to deploy their ground-launched IRBMs,” he said.

The INF Treaty, which has been in effect since 1987, is a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that aims to eliminate intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. Land-based Cruise and Ballistic missiles with ranges of 500–1000 km were referred to as shorter, and 1000–5500 km were referred to as intermediate. These missiles were prohibited from being produced or tested, and their elimination was required by the treaty. In 2019, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty, and Moscow unilaterally implemented a moratorium on the development and deployment of these missiles.

President Putin proposed a freeze on the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles across Europe and other regions at that time. He addressed numerous European and Asian nations, as well as numerous international organizations, with his initiative. The Russian Ministry of Defense said later that NATO effectively ignored the proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of new intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles and the possibility of developing mutual measures to alleviate existing concerns.

In October 2023, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry declared that Russia is prepared to implement reciprocal measures if the U.S. deploys intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in Europe in response to Washington’s refusal to reach agreements on INF. This also applies to Washington and the Pentagon’s plans to deploy such missiles on the territory of their military allies in the Asia-Pacific region, primarily in Japan and South Korea.

In April, the commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific region, Charles Flynn, announced the U.S.’s intention to deploy intermediate-range missiles in the “Indo-Pacific region” in the near future.

In response to Washington’s actions, Moscow has intensified the refinement and commencing the production of intermediate-range and shorter-range missile systems. The Russian Defense Ministry warned the U.S. that if such American systems appear in any region of the world, Russia will lift its unilateral moratorium on their deployment.

The Americans initiated a “test step” during joint military exercises conducted in April of this year with the armed forces of the Philippines, which President Biden is actively incorporating into the military blocs he is forming in the Asia-Pacific region (APR) against China and Russia. For the first time, the U.S. deployed ground-based missile systems previously prohibited by the treaty with Russia in the region: Typhon army systems were transferred to the Philippines as part of the exercises. This new army ground-based launcher is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles and multi-purpose Standard SM-6 missiles. These are the systems the Americans reportedly planned to deploy in APR countries.

According to Lavrov, the deployment of U.S. ground-based intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in Europe and the APR “will create a serious security challenge for Russia.” However, such actions will not only be a problem for Moscow. “In a joint statement following President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to China, it was noted that such destabilizing steps by the U.S. pose a direct threat to both our country and China. Therefore, we have agreed with our Chinese partners to strengthen cooperation to counter Washington’s irresponsible behavior that undermines international stability,” Lavrov emphasized.

“The Americans initially withdrew from the INF Treaty to explore new territories, including the Philippines, and I am sure that other Asia-Pacific countries will receive requests to provide hospitable territory for similar types of weapons,” suggested Lavrov.

After Lavrov’s warnings, the Americans may have temporarily abandoned their plans.

Commenting on the Russian statement, Vedant Patel, Deputy Head of the U.S. State Department’s Press Service, said Washington does not see the necessity for this. “The U.S. does not currently consider it necessary to return nuclear weapons to the Indo-Pacific region. And the U.S. has no plans for forward deployment of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

This may be a temporary truce. It remains to be seen if Japan will host nuclear missiles and weapons in the future.

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