The US knows that its public pretense of pulling out of the INF Treaty in order to compel other countries to join an expanded version of it is unbelievable because most other powers with these intermediate-range missile capabilities won’t ever accede to a new agreement, but America’s going forward with this narrative anyhow in order to turn South Korea and Japan into missile bases for countering China’s game-changing DF-26 “carrier-killers”.
Geostrategic Disincentives To Joining
The US’ official position for pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is because of supposed Russian violations of this accord through Moscow’s recently built Iskander missiles, but the real reason why the US wants to regain the right to deploy ground-based nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers (310-3,420 miles) is to more effectively “contain” China in East Asia, which suggests that a convenient anti-Russian pretext is being exploited for actual anti-Chinese ends. The US is attempting to disguise its main military motivations by claiming that this dramatic move is intended to get other countries with these intermediate-range missile capabilities to join an expanded pact that would include more than just the two Old Cold War-era superpowers like it presently does, which is rational enough in a sense but nevertheless deceptive because there’s close to no chance that the non-Western ones wielding these weapons will agree to do so.
According to a Facebook post by Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev, the UK, France, “Israel”, Pakistan, India, and North Korea possess short- and intermediate-range missiles, but it’s also possible that Iran does too. In any case, the only ones who might agree to join an expanded INF Treaty would be the UK and France because they don’t face any realistic security threats that require them to field ground-based nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 500-5000 kilometers, whereas the others certainly do. The distance between “Israel” and Iran falls within the range of the INF Treaty’s prohibitions, and it’s unreasonable to expect either of them to voluntarily surrender these ground-based capabilities even though they could still theoretically maintain sea- and air-launched ones as per the current loophole in the accord. The same goes for Pakistan and India vis-à-vis one another and China and North Korea as regards American bases in South Korea and Japan.
The only practical reason why the INF Treaty was agreed to in the first place is because the USSR thought that it would gradually lead to the demilitarization of Europe at the end of the Old Cold War that create a buffer zone between it and the US, which history shows was a false expectation, albeit one that the Soviets might have been guided to believe through misleading reassurances from the Americans. At the time, however, the logic was superficially sound because the US and USSR are located a hemisphere away from one another and wouldn’t need ground-based intermediate-range missiles to target one another’s territory unless they planned to have Europe become their main battlefield in World War III. It’s true that sea- and air-launched missiles of this range could have still been fielded in Europe, but the prevailing notion was that the INF Treaty was a step in the direction of the continent’s gradual demilitarization.
The same principle of the INF Treaty leading to a “détente” between rival powers elsewhere in the world certainly can’t be applied to any of the other militaries wielding these ground-based intermediate-range capabilities for the self-explanatory geographic reasons that were previously pointed out, which is why the US’ narrative that pulling out of the agreement could incentivize them to negotiate their accession to an expanded accord is utterly unbelievable. The driving force behind the US’ decision isn’t to reach a multilateral deal with each of its counterparts but to give the Pentagon the operational flexibility to field these missiles in East Asia for more effectively “contain” China, with the formal remilitarization of Europe (which never actually ended after the Old Cold War) being what apparently upsets Russia the most about this.
Countering The “Carrier-Killers”
Truth be told, Russia suspected for a while now that the US was in violation of the INF Treaty after it repeatedly warned that the “anti-missile interceptors” that the Pentagon deployed to Central & Eastern Europe over the years could actually be agreement-violating cruise missiles disguised under that cover, so Moscow probably wasn’t surprised by Washington’s withdrawal from the accord and likely had more than enough time to formulate its responses (both public and private). China, meanwhile, counts the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) intermediate-range missile – popularly regarded as a “carrier-killer” – as one of the most impressive collections in its arsenal, and it’s actually this armament more so than any others that triggered the US to pull out of the INF Treaty to “fight fire with fire” because of the fear that the “East Wind” (which is what its name translates to) will impose an Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) “bubble” against US naval forces in the region.
What the US might be planning to do is repurpose some of its “defensive” “anti-missile” interceptors, ground units, and facilities in South Korea and Japan into forward-operating intermediate-range ones for use against China in an attempt to counteract its rival’s game-changing A2AD capabilities by also further complicating its regional security situation. US sea and air units in the South China Sea are almost assuredly outfitted with this class of missiles already per the INF Treaty’s workaround, but the problem is that they’re within the DF-26’s range and might not be able to pull off a retaliatory strike in time. Responding with long-range missiles, meanwhile, might be interpreted by the Chinese as an incoming nuclear attack, which is something that the US might not want to have happen if it intends to keep a future clash “contained” and below the nuclear threshold.
All told, the US’ possible deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles in South Korea and Japan (or repurposing of existing “defensive” “anti-missile” interceptors, ground units, and facilities there) as a countermeasure to China’s DF-26 “carrier killers” is intended to give the US enough of a “credible non-nuclear deterrence” to ward off any potential first strike by Beijing in response to the US Navy’s provocative South China Sea and Taiwanese Strait “freedom of navigation patrols” that the country considers to be infringing on its exclusive maritime zones. The US might even be itching to goad China into attacking it first in order to “teach it a lesson” below the nuclear threshold and “humble” its leadership into submitting to America’s “trade war” demands. This would be a devious development but one which shouldn’t be discounted after the US’ withdrawal from the IMF Treaty, which is really just an anti-Chinese move clothed with an anti-Russian pretext regardless of the “official” narrative.