The Trump administration’s recent announcement that it plans to scrap the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), agreed to by then-President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, would be a major step backwards. It threatens to undermine decades of progress on nuclear arms controls and plunge the world into a new arms race. It is reckless, foolish and will destabilize a world already experiencing significant upheavals. This important treaty defused a tense stand-off in Europe, and helped to bring-about an end to the Cold War.
The US-Russia relationship is currently precarious, at best. Has it plunged to the depths of the US and Soviet Union’s standoff of the early 1980s? Not yet, but we’re rapidly getting there. And the decision to do away with the INF not only threatens progress on nuclear arms control, but will also create diplomatic chaos in other ways with Russia. The situation in Ukraine and Crimea come to mind. Even though no solid evidence has yet emerged that Russia interfered in any way with our recent midterm elections, the last thing we need is further agitation with this formidable world power.
The reality is we’re now living in a multipolar world. We need to recognize this. Russia has allies that we need to work with to defuse tensions in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. Germany, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey are among the most important. We can’t ignore these nations and hope to make progress in our efforts to promote world peace. So far, Trump has ostracized or marginalized them, as we have Russia. Not good. If a new Cold War is to emerge, we will probably be badly outnumbered, especially if we continue to burn our bridges with Western European allies, as Trump is doing.
Our relationship with China (also allied with Russia) is also fraught with tensions, as the Trump administration continues to push for tariffs and other economic sanctions against the world’s second largest economy. Big mistake. If we are not careful, China is going to eat our lunch (if they are not already), and we will rue the day it became capitalistic. And Russia will aid and abet them. We must not let our arrogance get out of control or a major re-alignment of the world order is in store, and it will not be to our liking.
We are also trying to push around China militarily. Not wise. Among other disputes, there are disagreements about the status of the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province. There are deep historical reasons for this, which we should not disregard.
We have sailed large naval warships into the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait on a routine basis. This is very provocative. How would we like it if China sailed major naval vessels into the Gulf of Mexico? We seem to be blind to these contradictions, but they threaten to escalate into something more dangerous.
US warships and attack submarines are armed with highly accurate Tomahawk cruise missiles, some of which are nuclear-tipped, while our warplanes are equipped with surface-to-air missiles that can hit targets hundreds of miles away. China knows this. Let’s not push our luck and start trouble.
Finally, the Trump administration is poised to reignite proxy wars common in Latin America and other places during the Cold War. For example, the administration has threatened to cut off millions of dollars in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for having trouble stopping immigrants from heading north. These people are fleeing violence and civil war to which our support of the right-wing governments in question contributes.
Further inflaming tensions, White House national security advisor John Bolton has recently accused Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua of being a “troika of tyranny,” which regards the US as an “imperialist bully, the LA Times reported in November. All of this is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s pronouncement of Iran, North Korea and Iraq as being an “axis of evil,” and signals the possibility of war. Meanwhile, Bolton embraces the right-wing governments of Columbia and Brazil. Not a good way to win friends and influence people.
Trump, Bolton, and their ilk are leading us down a dangerous path. Maybe now that the Democrats have won back the House of Representatives, disaster can be averted. We can only hope.
John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.