When the U.S. withdrew from the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) Treaty last week, many asked what impact the decision would have on Europe. The answer is that, after causing some short-term difficulties, it will probably benefit Europe in the long term. Perhaps this is why, despite many Democratic politicians’ insinuating otherwise, the majority of NATO countries supported the move — France and Germany being the most vocal exceptions.
The INF Treaty was an agreement between the U.S. and Russia, and the U.S. withdrew because Russia has flagrantly developed weapons that violate the pact. Absurdly, Russian president Vladimir President Putin has stated that if the treaty withdrawal leads to the United States developing new weapons, Russia would do the same “in response.”
The chief concern raised by most experts concerns the potential for Russia to immediately scale up the threat it poses to Europe. “In the short term, Russia is gaining the advantage, because it already has medium-range missiles in Europe, while NATO has not,” says Grzegorz Kuczynski, director of the Eurasia program at the Warsaw Institute. “But this situation can change quite quickly, as in Reagan’s time. The American missiles will reach Europe, and the situation will be tied, not in favor of Russia. And the loss will be obvious — because the INF issue is another issue that prevents Putin from resetting relations with the U.S.”
The end of the treaty can also lead to a stronger alliance between the United States and the countries of Eastern Europe. “If Western Europe does not want to take medium-range missiles from the U.S., it will go to Poland and other countries of NATO’s eastern flank. Theoretically, you can even scare Russia with their deployment in Ukraine. Or in Georgia,” Kuczynski says.
Poland especially can play a pivotal role. “Poland has the possibility — for geopolitical reasons — to be a hub,” says Marcin Gaweda, president of the Warsaw Institute Foundation. The country has agreed to host the land-based section of the U.S. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System known as Aegis Ashore starting next year. “Poland may become a hub redistributing security to the whole region. This strongly limits Russia and its possible ambitions in Central and Eastern Europe,” Gaweda said. “And it supports the American presence.”
Furthermore, despite doomsday prognostications from some experts and pundits, the end of the treaty hardly makes Russia a greater threat to Eastern Europe than it already was. “First of all, it is mostly in the range of Russian [short-range] missiles,” Kuczynski says. “Secondly, Russian rockets are aimed at Eastern Europe anyway — for example, Iskanders near Kaliningrad.”
While the disposal of a treaty that limited the development of nuclear weapons may be unnerving, Russia was not adhering to the terms anyway. A stronger alliance between the United States and the countries of Eastern Europe should prove far more valuable than a broken treaty with Russia ever could be.