Russian Topol ICBMs outside Moscow for the nation's annual May 9 Victory Day parade. Photo: AFP/DIMA KOROTAYEV
Russian Topol ICBMs outside Moscow for the nation's annual May 9 Victory Day parade. Photo: AFP/DIMA KOROTAYEV

The Trump administration has announced its decision to withdraw from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, perhaps believing that China needs to be part of the agreement, and indicated its preference for a comprehensive pact that includes Russia, the United States and China.

US national security adviser John Bolton put forward similar views when he said in Moscow that Russia had been violating the INF Treaty for years and rising powers such as China meant that it was a “new strategic reality out there.”

Specifically, the US has accused Russia of violating the treaty by deploying its newest missile, the 9M729, to which Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has responded by stating that it has not been proved that the missile’s range exceeds the limits stipulated by the treaty.

On the other side, Russia has continued to express its misgivings about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastward expansion and the US anti-ballistic-missile systems placed near its doorstep in countries such as Romania and Poland.

Moscow has also criticized Washington for withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 to pave way for the missile defense system. Notably, that treaty, signed between the US and then Soviet Union in 1972, prohibited both from deploying defenses against strategic ballistic missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin this year announced a spate of new defense systems that “can reach any point in the world” and a supersonic weapon that cannot be tracked by anti-missile systems.

In response to the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, many strategic experts believe that Moscow can respond by deploying intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles at its borders, which would directly impinge on European security, and European countries are likely to emerge as sites for this renewed Russian-US confrontation. In this light, European countries may become Russia’s partner in attempts to preserve the treaty.

Meanwhile, there has been an exchange of words between the two countries indicating more militarization in the European continent. On the one hand, President Donald Trump has remarked that the US would build up its arsenal “until people come to their senses,” while Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Scrapping the treaty forces Russia to take steps for its own security.”

It is perceptible that the US has preferred a path of militarization to attempts at salvaging the INF Treaty.

Indicating a militaristic turn in his administration’s foreign policy, Trump has approved a whopping defense budget of US$717 billion. Trump said: “The [2019] National Defense Authorization Act is the most significant investment in our military and our war fighters in modern history.” He further averred that “we are going to strengthen our military like never ever before, and that’s what we did.”

The budget also sought to outmaneuver China and enhance US investments and strategic influence by financially empowering the Committee on Foreign Investment. Apart from earmarking huge spending on modernizing and equipping the army and air force, the US Congress’ approval of $1.56 billion for three littoral combat ships in response to the navy’s request for one and allocation of a gigantic sum towards developing a fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, six icebreakers, and a Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine point to the US concerns over growing Chinese influence in the oceans.

Further, the act stipulates allocation of substantial resources toward the development of critical directed energy and space sensing projects as well as hypersonic defense capabilities primarily aimed at fostering US security objectives in various parts of the globe.

US pursuits of hard power have not come without costs to its soft power. Its withdrawal from major international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal along with the Trump administration’s hardline stance on immigration and trade indicate Washington’s lack of trust in soft power as an effective instrument to enhance influence through attraction.

Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard University who coined the term “soft power,” has argued that the Trump administration has acted as if soft power did not matter and emplaced a “hard-power budget” by cutting down funding for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development by 30%.

In a similar vein, Professor William Rugh of Northeastern University in New York state has argued that Trump’s pronouncements on foreign policies have already damaged America’s soft power abroad.

An annual global ranking of nations’ soft power based on surveys conducted by London-based Portland Communications and the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy projects that there has been a decline in US soft power since Trump became president.

The US refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, which ruled that Washington must ensure that its sanctions do not affect humanitarian aid or civil aviation safety for Iran, indicated that the US was backing away from the international norms that it sought for others to uphold.

Trump sent signals of his inclination toward a hard-power approach in his threats to change the international normative order and prevailing trade arrangements early in his presidency when he threatened to withdraw the US from NATO, the World Trade Organization, and the UN Human Rights Council and began trade wars with China and the European Union.

The Trump administration pitched an innovative idea to strengthen NATO and urged the European partners to enhance their defense spending to 2% of their gross domestic product, while there was no indication whether the US would opt for a budget with less funding on defense.

However, the US policy posture toward Russia, China, Iran and North Korea either in the form of imposition and continuation of sanctions and/or withdrawal from treaties and agreements indicates that foreign policy under the Trump administration is likely to be more militaristic unless the approach is changed.

Trump raised the Russian specter in an attempt to persuade Germany to raise its contribution to defense. For instance, he said: “It should never have been allowed to happen. Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting 60-70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline.”

However, many European member-countries of NATO do not appear to share the arguments that US objectives were limited to the defense of Europe. These countries seem to believe that the US supports a range of interests and allies around the globe that impinges on European security.

The US withdrawal from the INF Treaty may turn out to be a move that can drive a wedge between the American and European states’ threat perceptions. It is likely that the US sanctions against major powers and increasingly militaristic turn in foreign policy will lead to heightened threat perceptions and alliance formations and hence greater militarization in the global arena.

Manoj Kumar Mishra

Dr Manoj Kumar Mishra has a PhD in international relations from the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, India. Currently, he is working as a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, SVM Autonomous College, Odisha, India.