A New Power Balance in East Asia after the INF Termination?

The Termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has been seen a wake-up call for a new arms race. The reason for the US withdrawal from the INF was the alleged illegal Russian possession of intermediate-range missiles as well as China’s almost monopolistic possession of these weapons. China is known to possess the most of this missile type today; however, the cancellation is a logical development and could be expected many years ago. If the USA and Russia could involve other states, especially China, to establish a new INF treaty, it would have much impact on regional securities. Should a new treaty be concluded, it could also avoid spending funds for weapons competitions that mostly burdened the Soviet Union in the past. It could also secure the US military bases in Japan and Japan from North and South Korean missiles in case of the unification of both Koreas. In addition, China and the Koreas would mutually deter each other.

If the INF is cancelled and not replaced by a new treaty, keeping a power balance is fundamentally essential for regional securities. As for the Indo-Pacific region, the US might deploy intermediate-range missiles in Guam to deter Chinese military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea. Russia could place missiles on the Kuril Islands which Russia took away from Japan after the Second World War. Missiles deployed there can reach the US bases in Misawa in Japan and also deter Chinese military vessels plowing the Japanese Sea and the Bering Sea to Europe. Russia can also station missiles in Siberia to simultaneously focus on China, the Korean peninsula, the USA and Japan. The USA can aim at Russian military bases in Siberia and the Kuril Islands from Alaska.

It is not clear yet if a new comprehensive treaty involving at least all nations with nuclear weapons could be established after the termination of the INF. One thing however is quite clear: keeping a power balance is essential for keeping regional stability. A lack thereof might spark conflicts specially in East Asia until a new power balance would be found. Should America and Russia decide to continue some sort of INF treaty, how could the missiles held by China be treated? The most serious security concerns in the East and South China Sea for the US might be Chinese nuclear submarines passing through the Bashi Channel to the Pacific Ocean. China has already emplaced missiles on its artificial islands in the South China Sea besides the one on the main land. The future of the Korean peninsula and the trading conflicts between the US and China also impact Asian regional stability. Thus, treating intermediate-range missiles is essential.

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