While the Trump administration’s decision to end the Intermediate Range Nuclear (INF) treaty has certainly sent the world into a ‘strategic shock’, the biggest shock is certainly in Europe, which was always the primary beneficiary of this treaty. It had seen hundreds of missiles removed from its soil and also those pointed towards it, changing the continent’s security environment considerably as this treaty marked a major benchmark in terms of ending the cold war as well. Now, the end of this treaty means that Europe has once again become vulnerable to a nuclear showdown between Russia and the US any time in future. This vulnerability certainly requires some crucial decision. Therefore, an important question is: how will Europe adjust to this new strategic reality?
For now, there is clearly a divide in Europe over how it sees US withdrawal. While the UK has announced that they ‘stand’ with Trump, Germany sees this development differently and its statement expresses regret about the US decision to abandon “an important element of arms control that especially serves European interests.” In the absence of robust missile programs, therefore, will the US ‘force’ countries like Germany, whom Trump has already accused of not contributing their due share to NATO, to place US made weapons in Europe? In such a scenario, we might see another rupture in US-EU relations since the mood in Europe isn’t really ‘favourable’ towards Trump, and the possible deployment of US weapons in Europe today will most probably be seen as ‘over-dependence’ over the US than as a reflection of true strategic alliance.
On top of it is the fact that no European leader, unlike the US presidents, has ever publicly criticised the Russians for any violation of the INF treaty, a fact that will make it difficult for EU countries to simply subscribe to the US version of things and frame policies accordingly. Also, the fact that EU and the US have developed difference over a number of crucial issues stands to make an impact on what the EU does in the post-INF scenario.
An important question, in this context, is also that of EU’s own relations with Russia. Undoubtedly, EU’s relations with Russia are fundamentally different from what these relations were like during Cold War.