Russia, Syria and the Collapse of the INF Treaty

In an age of world wars, the entire planet is linked through geopolitics. This is precisely why the Trump administration policy of “America First” makes little sense. America has had, and has needed, allies since the end of WWII. But US allies over the last seventy years have always played a secondary role to the Washington strategy of US-led uni-polarity. Since WWII, the US has dominated all the theaters of potential war on the Euro-Asian mass continent. Allies were important, but always America led.

But to lead can become very expensive. Now the Trump administration has adopted a new policy whereby its allies are under far greater scrutiny to ante up monies (that Washington lacks) for their collective defense. America has been confined by financial budget and national debt worries. The inevitable rise in US interest rates has put a severe damper on both the stock and bond bubble rallies. In such a tenuous financial environment, the US must carefully choose its geopolitical priorities.

In the Middle East, stopping Iranian advancement is important to Trump, but only if someone else is picking up the bill. The same is true for NATO in Europe. The Europeans are being forced to do much more with little financial help from Washington. Trump’s true commitment to his allies — in both Europe and the Middle East — has been in question since the first day of his presidency. With just two thousand troops in Syria, Trump’s electoral base will not allow him to expand, especially now with the US economy poised to contract.

But Syria has never really been an American project, not under Obama and also not under Trump. ISIS has been an American project under both presidents, but not Assad and certainly not the Russians under Putin or Iran under the so-called “Supreme Leader”. Obama had no strategy against Putin in Syria, and with Iran everything Obama thought he accomplished has turned out to be dead wrong. Anyone with half a brain could see that the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was merely a project to “kick the can down the road” until another US President had to deal with the Tehran government on the nuclear threshold. And as far as Iranian behavior in the aftermath of the signing of the JCPOA, the last three years speak volumes.

Trump’s strategy on Iran is based on the assumption that economic sanctions over the course of the next six years will drive Iran to negotiate. But does Trump have six years? And if the current US president is not re-elected in 2020, will a new Democratic Party president continue with the Trump policy of severe economic sanctions? Meanwhile most of the America’s European allies remain wedded to re-establishing the JCPOA, which is a policy in direct contradiction to the sanctions. A strategy of six years of sanctions will work to change Iranian nuclear ambitions and regional behavior, but not without allies and certainly not without the US Democratic Party.

Now the Trump administration is on the verge of withdrawing from the INF Treaty. What does this treaty have to do with Syria, Iran and the Middle East? The answer is a simple but emphatic — everything. Remember, in an age of world war, all geopolitics are linked globally. America fears the INF buildup currently being built by China. The Russians are doing everything they can to disrupt the politics of Europe (and NATO) by controlling the flow of refugees (northward) from Syria. The Russians have feared the expansion of NATO since the 1990’s. The refugee flow allows them to put much greater pressure on the European political status quo and therefore NATO. The Chinese are afraid of US Pacific uni-polarity on their doorstep. Hence, Beijing has expanded its nuclear INF force to deter what it perceives as an American conventional naval threat. The US feels it must respond to the Chinese build-up or have its long-range nuclear umbrella be put under question by its other Pacific allies.

The world is a geopolitical whole and all the regions of the Euro-Asian land mass are rubbing up against one another. The old Soviet Union and the US signed the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty to prevent these dangerous nuclear weapons (with ranges from 300 miles up to 3420 miles) from causing havoc on the European continent. Originally, the Soviets thought they could disrupt America’s nuclear commitment to NATO by threatening only Western Europe and not the US mainland. Yet NATO responded to the Russian ploy by stationing its own INF force within range of Moscow. But China was not a party to the treaty because Beijing (in 1987) was very weak. Of course, this is no longer true, and now the vital INF Treaty has become another victim of US uni-polarity in our linked world of geopolitics.

Iran in Syria with Russia, NATO within an hour’s drive of St. Petersburg and the Russian heartland, and now even China and the demise of the INF Treaty — all of these geopolitical poles are working in opposition to each other. Recently, I wrote: “The only solution for Europe is to bring Russia back into Europe. The expansion of NATO eastward has now been countered through the Kremlin’s successes in the Syrian civil war. Moscow controls the tap of potential refugees, and the cultural angst created through mass migration (into Europe) has been used to alter the post-Cold War conventional European political and military balance. This situation can only deteriorate — for both Europe and the Middle East — unless something is done to alter the geo-strategic imbalance between NATO and Moscow. President Trump has little credibility to make any significant move against the anti-Russian political forces aligned against him within the Washington establishment. Only Germany’s center-right coalition has the history and, still, the necessary political capital to explain (to its people) the essential relationship between Syrian migration and the broken European security architecture. Chancellor Merkel has the opportunity to become a significant historical figure by establishing a new construction for a permanent and successful European balance of forces.”

I went on to state further: “Conventional disarmament — of offensive capability — between Germany and Russia must become the cement of that new construction. This can only be accomplished through the absence of American troops and the diminution of its military bases and equipment throughout Europe. However, all of NATO’s current eastern allies must also be satisfied that any potential threat, from either Russia or Germany, has been significantly decreased, if not ended. The imbalance in Europe has also seriously affected Asia by driving Moscow and Beijing closer together and toward an alarming new global bi-polarity. This situation can only make the region of the Middle East far more explosive than it already is. The Syrian-Iraqi-Lebanese theater cannot withstand a global proxy war within a regional proxy war. The consequences of such an escalation could go beyond the conventional and into the catastrophic. Israel will never tolerate an Iranian hegemony, but Russia continues to support both Assad and Tehran. This makes Israel extremely nervous and risks a blow-up. Germany has an historic obligation toward both Israel and world peace. Mrs. Merkel has claimed that her government views its raison d’etre as Israel’s continued existence. Why not add European peace to the mix?”

As we approach the hundred-year anniversary of the end to WWI, human society has once again begun to drift perilously close to another conflagration. Nuclear weapons continue to proliferate, as past accomplishments like the 1987 INF Treaty are jettisoned without much forethought. Conventional imbalances are still perceived (as through all history) in a mindless zero-sum way. Many nations seek nuclear weapons protection against these conventional imbalances. War remains prevalent, as world war appears just over the horizon.

Have we learned nothing from our past actions? Can history not be redeemed? Can a global leadership not arise to help unify the world’s nations and direct them in a far more peaceful direction? — I pray: “Please G-d, help us to overcome our violent history, in order that all of us can envision the wisdom in your many teachings of peace and love. Please, we’ve been down this fearful path before. Something must be done soon, before it is (once again) too late! Dear G-d, multitudes fear that your world (under our misguided stewardship) is falling apart. We so desperately need you to help us to fix global politics. Please don’t abandon us as a lost cause.”

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).