Mark Mackinnon reports on the ramifications for Russia and the world of President Trump’s announcement that the USA will withdraw from the 32-year-old Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). He touches on major concerns about a new arms race, quoting former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, “Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements…Do they really not understand in Washington what this can lead to?”
Appropriate Subject Area(s):
Social studies, current events
Key Question(s) to Explore:
- What is the INF? What are some of the reasons for the USA’s withdrawal, and what are the inherent dangers of that action?
Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), Cold War, Novator 9M729, Doomsday Clock
Globe article, Internet: (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty)
Introduction to lesson and task:
The western world was stunned when President Trump announced that the USA was withdrawing from the INF, citing Russian development of their new Novator 9M729 cruise missile and lack of international oversight thereof, as per INF rules. Critics of the move claim that Mr. Trump’s action will lead to a news arms race and the resumption of the Cold War, putting the whole world in greater danger of a nuclear confrontation. A worrisome aspect, in the light of the US Justice Department’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, is that Vladimir Putin’s Russia appears to welcome the USA withdrawal.
Until a couple of years ago, students and their parents lived in a period where the potential for nuclear war was less likely than it had been during the Cold War. During that period, nuclear scientists created the “Doomsday Clock,” which to this day graphically illustrates current dangers of a nuclear confrontation. Mr. Trump’s actions contributed to a reset to two minutes to midnight, where midnight represents a world-destroying nuclear war. Students can benefit from a history lesson on nuclear threats in our time, and on efforts by major powers to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Students are to work in groups on two sets of tasks: the USA withdrawal from the INF, and the rationale and creation of the Doomsday Clock. For the latter, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Clock
Action (lesson plan and task):
Engage students in a discussion about the nuclear arms race. These questions and prompts can help focus the discussion (answers in parentheses for your benefit):
- What is a nuclear arms race? (Two or more countries compete to produce more and more powerful nuclear weapons)
- Who was involved in the arms race historically? (The USA and the Soviet Union, although others, like China, North Korea and India, are actively pursuing more production and deployment)
- What does the acronym MAD denote? (Mutually Assured Destruction. The two major world powers believed that if each had the capability to completely destroy the other, neither would be the first to use their nuclear weapons)
- What is the Doomsday Clock? (A clock on which the time to midnight represents how close the world is to a nuclear war)
Provide the following worksheets, one for each set of groups to complete:
Using these websites, complete the following tasks and questions: (Be prepared to report your findings to class.)
- What was the Manhattan Project and how is it connected to the Doomsday Clock?
- When was the clock invented and by whom?
- What is the significance of midnight on this clock, and how is that meaning determined?
- What was the initial setting of the clock?
- When was it set the farthest from midnight, and what events caused the change?
- How many minutes closer to midnight was it moved when India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998? What else happened that year?
- Since 1991, how many times was time added to the clock (indicating reduced risk), as opposed to subtracting (increased risk)?
- What events in 2017 and 2018 led to subtracting a total of one minute?
- What is the clock set at now?
- Read the article by Mark Mackinnon. Do you think the decision by President Trump increases the risk of nuclear war or decreases it? Give reasons.
Read Mark Mackinnon’s article, and familiarize yourself with this link: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty , complete the following tasks and questions: (Be prepared to report your findings to class.)
- What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty?
- What is meant by Intermediate-Range?
- What is the Novator 9M729? Why is it controversial?
- Why is its range significant?
- Who were the world leaders that signed the INF, and what did they say they had accomplished in doing so?
- Were the nuclear arsenals of each country reduced, and if so, by how much?
- What reasons do Russia and the USA each present to support elimination of the INF?
- Why do critics of this move claim that without this treaty there will be a new arms race?
- What date is set for US withdrawal from the treaty, and what does German Chancellor Angela Merkel hope for in that regard?
- Why would Germany and other European nations be particularly worried about ending the treaty?
- Finally, what is your opinion of Mr. Trump’s move? Do you think the USA should stay in the treaty or abandon it? Give reasons.
Consolidation of Learning:
- Students discuss their reports at the end of class, or in a subsequent session.
- In simple terms, students are able to describe the INF, and list some of the reasons for the USA’s withdrawal, as well as the inherent dangers of that action.
- Ask students to report when they notice that the USA has either withdrawn from the INF or reconsidered.