Earlier this year, the United States announced its decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. What lies behind the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark 1987 nuclear arms control pact with Russia and how might it affect the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region? To find answers, The Asahi Shimbun consulted defense experts in Japan and the United States.

Below are excerpts of an interview with Hirofumi Tosaki, senior fellow of the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Japan Institute of International Affairs:


Question: What, in your view, lies in the background to the U.S. announcement that it was withdrawing from the INF Treaty?

Tosaki: Russia had violated the treaty and that was officially pointed out by the previous U.S. administration under President Barack Obama. On top of that, hard-liners, such as John Bolton, who became the White House national security adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, took up core posts in the administration and I believe they led the push to move away from the traditional arms control framework.

Moreover, while the United States and Russia were bound by the bilateral treaty, other nations, such as China, went ahead with the production of missiles banned by the INF Treaty. The United States and Russia had strong feelings about that development, and I believe that was one factor behind the withdrawal from the treaty.

Q: How did Russia view the treaty?

A: While harboring a sense of crisis toward the expansion of NATO, Russia was also concerned about its relationship with a rising China. From about the mid-2000s, Russia began arguing that there was a need to turn the treaty into a multilateral one and lobbied the United States to withdraw from the treaty simultaneously. Although Russia has criticized the U.S. withdrawal, I believe its true feelings lie elsewhere. Russia can now boldly withdraw from the treaty and blame the United States for its demise.

Q: How do you view China's accelerated development of missiles?

A: While China has been placing greater emphasis on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), it has also increased the number of land-based intermediate-range ballistic/cruise missiles.

The United States has become increasingly concerned about not being able to intervene in a conflict which China is involved in due to its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy as well as the possibility that its bases (including those in Japan) could be targeted.

While some argue for using U.S. intermediate-range missiles as a countermeasure, there are also opposing views about the military effectiveness and need for such missiles.

Q: How do you view the discussions in the United States about deploying ground-based missiles to the Western Pacific once it withdraws from the treaty?

A: That reflects a concern that something must be done to deal with the relative decline in U.S. deterrence in the region due to the accelerated development of missiles by China and North Korea.

However, even if the decision was made to deploy such missiles, it would take several years. It should also be contemplated what would be gained by deploying the missiles. There would also be the issue of where the missiles would be deployed. Although Japan is being viewed as a major candidate site, it would be politically difficult to deploy the missiles on its soil. A possible option of deploying mobile anti-ship cruise missiles on the South-West islands for countering China's A2/AD would still face the problem of vulnerability to adversaries' attack due to a lack of strategic depth.

Q: How do you view the concerns about arms expansion as well as the possibility of creating a new arms control framework?

A: It is China that is posing a challenge to the existing international/regional order by strengthening its military capabilities, so the United States and Japan need to implement countermeasures. On the other hand, if the United States and Japan bolster their defense capabilities, there is the possibility that China could take additional measures.

There have been past examples, such as the INF Treaty, of creating frameworks for arms control and disarmament after facing increased tensions and crisis among the major powers. But for the near future, it is difficult to foresee the creation in Asia of an arms control framework that would place numerical limits or reductions on missiles.

It would be inconceivable for China to abandon its superiority to the United States in terms of intermediate-range missile capability. Meanwhile, the United States possesses sea-launched cruise missiles as well as air power. China would argue that those capabilities also be included in any arms control framework in Northeast Asia, but the United States would resist such a proposal.

The most urgent issue is to reduce the risk of the use of missiles by, among others, increasing transparency of China's nuclear weapon and missile capabilities and building up a sense of trust and confidence among the countries involved in security issues in this region.

Q: What role should Japan play?

A: If the INF Treaty should become invalidated, a situation would arise that could lead to the United States deploying missiles in Northeast Asia. There would be a need for strategic discussions between Japan, the United States and China in light of a new strategic situation.

Dialogue should be started to talk about such issues, for example, the threat posed by missiles, the possibility of unintended risks as well as the objective of missile development. No progress will be made in creating a new arms control framework without the start of dialogue.


Hirofumi Tosaki's research interests are arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation, and missile defense.

(This interview was conducted by Taketsugu Sato, a senior staff writer, and Ryo Kiyomiya.)

(INTERVIEW/ Andrew Krepinevich: Stable U.S.-China military balance needed in Western Pacific)

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