WASHINGTON/MOSCOW/BEIJING/TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that the United States signed with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in 1987, and build new types of nuclear weapons. The announcement is certain to trigger a nuclear arms race with Russia and China, and may worsen Japan's national security situation.
Trump told reporters after a rally in the southwestern state of Nevada on Oct. 20, "If Russia is doing it, China is doing it and we're adhering to the (INF) agreement, that's unacceptable ... Russia has not adhered to the agreement. So, we're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to develop the (new nuclear) weapons."
John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, is expected to convey this decision to Russia during his visit to Moscow Oct. 22-23.
Trump's announcement triggered strong criticism from Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Russia's TASS news agency on Oct. 21 that it was a "very dangerous step" that "won't be just understood by the international community, but arouse serious condemnation of all members of the world community, who are committed to security and stability and are ready to work on strengthening the current regimes in arms control."
The INF agreement requires the destruction of intermediate ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The U.S. has accused Russia of deploying a missile in violation of the treaty in February 2017.
Meanwhile, 90 percent of the 1,400 to 1,800 missiles in China's possession are said to be of intermediate range, according to the U.S. military. The U.S. is concerned about Beijing's development of so-called "aircraft-carrier killer" ballistic missiles. In April 2017, the then chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Harry Harris told a Congressional hearing that the treaty was restricting U.S. countermeasures against cruise and ground-based missiles held by China and other countries.
However, Beijing seems to be concerned about getting implicated in the confrontation between Washington and Moscow, as its trade war with the United States intensifies and spills over into national security. Yang Chengjun, a ballistic missile expert, called Trump's reference to China in connection with the INF treaty "groundless and irresponsible," China's Global Times newspaper's web edition reported on Oct. 21.
Meanwhile, the announcement has sparked anger and concerns from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two cities to have been hit by atomic bombs in 1945, killing more than 210,000 people by the end of that year.
"I am extremely furious. The move may have a negative impact on denuclearization talks with North Korea," said Tomoyuki Mimaki, 76, vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations and a survivor of the atomic bombing. Mimaki pointed out that demanding that Pyongyang get rid of its nuclear arsenal while leaving the INF treaty and developing new nuclear weapons was "inconsistent."
"President Trump should come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and learn," Mimaki said. "The government of Japan, the only country hit with nuclear weapons, should stop the U.S. from going in this direction."
Haruko Moritaki, the 79-year-old co-director of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, criticized the Trump announcement as "a stab at people seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons, and an act that disrupts international cooperation."
Moritaki went on to say that she felt Trump took this latest stance in order to broaden his appeal ahead of the upcoming midterm elections for U.S. Congress. "This could negatively affect other nuclear disarmament agreements," she said, concerned.
Nagasaki residents echoed the sentiment of those in Hiroshima. "This comes as countries are ratifying the nuclear weapons ban treaty. The action goes against global trends, and I cannot contain my anger," said Toyokazu Ihara, 82, chairman of the Nagasaki-ken Hibakusha Techo Tomo no Kai (Nagagaski prefectural association of holders of A-bomb survivors' certificates). "We will continue to protest until the day nuclear weapons vanish from the earth."
Takeshi Yamakawa, 82, the leader of a group of Nagasaki residents protesting nuclear tests, worries that a new era of U.S-Russia confrontation may come, as the treaty that ushered in the end of the Cold War faces collapse. "They are choosing to go against peace, and I cannot forgive them," he said.
The announcement also made waves in Tokyo. "Japan's position of requesting that the U.S. strengthen nuclear deterrence policies remains unchanged," said an individual linked to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "However, it is clear that the move is in direct opposition to (nuclear) disarmament. We have no choice but to wait and see how the situation develops."
Japan places importance on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which limits the possession of nuclear weapons to only five major countries -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. Tokyo has promoted step-by-step nuclear disarmament and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons by the states which possess them under the NPT. However, stalled nuclear disarmament moves feed into anger among non-nuclear states that the treaty favors the five nuclear powers.
"We need to push for nuclear disarmament while still responding to real threats," stressed another individual related to the Foreign Ministry.
(Japanese original by Haruyuki Aikawa, North America General Bureau; Hiroshi Omae, Moscow Bureau; Joji Uramatsu, China General Bureau; Yongho Lee, Fukuyama Bureau; Yuta Kumamoto, Hiroshima Bureau; Yoshihito Asano, Nagasaki Bureau; and Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department)