UN chief says world will lose brake on nuclear war with end of INF treaty

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is concerned by rising tensions between nuclear-armed states, warning “the world will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war” with the expiration of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on Friday.

“This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles,” Guterres told reporters. “Regardless of what transpires, the parties should avoid destabilizing developments and urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control.”

Barring a last-minute decision by Russia to destroy a new medium-range missile that NATO says violates the INF, the United States is set to pull out of the accord on August 2, arguing that it needs to develop its own warheads to deter Moscow.

Moscow says it is fully compliant with the treaty, negotiated by former US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.

The breakdown of the treaty, the latest in a growing list of East-West tensions, is of grave concern because medium-range rockets would allow Russia to launch a nuclear attack on Europe at very short notice, Western experts and officials say.

“I strongly encourage the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New Start agreement to provide stability and the time to negotiate future arms control measures,” Guterres said.

The 2011 New START treaty, a US-Russia arms control pact which limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons, is set to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree.

Guterres also said he was “troubled by growing friction” between the economies of the United States and China. He warned of the possible “emergence of two competing blocs - each with their own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, their own internet and artificial intelligence strategy, and their own contradictory geopolitical and military views.”

The United States and China have levied billions of dollars of tariffs on each other’s goods in a year-long trade war, disrupting global supply chains and roiling financial markets.

Germany urged the United States and Russia on Thursday to preserve what is left of the international arms control framework, a day before the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is set to run out.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested Moscow was to blame for the expiration of the INF treaty, a landmark agreement of Cold War-era arms control signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

“...We regret that Russia failed to do what was necessary to save the INF treaty,” Maas said in the statement.

By banning medium-range land-based missiles, which are capable of reaching Russia from Western Europe and vice versa, the treaty aimed to avert an arms race on the continent.

The United States announced last year it was withdrawing from the pact, accusing Russia of failing to comply with it. Moscow denies it has violated the treaty and says Washington is withdrawing because it wants to pursue a new arms race.

“With the end of the INF treaty, Europe is losing part of its security,” Maas said. “I am convinced that today we must again succeed in agreeing rules on disarmament and arms control in order to prevent a new nuclear arms race.”

He urged Moscow and Washington to do more to preserve the 2010 New START treaty, which limits strategic nuclear missiles.

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