EUROPE once again last week became a ticking timebomb of global instability, just as it did in the summer of 1914. Not because of Brexit; but rather due to the collapse of the international treaty that has kept nuclear peace on the continent of Europe for the last 32 years. That peace is now in jeopardy.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced it was “suspending” US participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which bans America and Russia from developing, testing or deploying ground-launched rockets with a range of between 300 and circa 3000 miles. The very next day, the Kremlin also withdrew from the treaty, which was originally signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

By “intermediate-range” we are talking simply about nuclear weapons that are geared for use in regional rather than global conflicts. Why does banning such weapons matter to the planet? An instant global nuclear war is highly unlikely. The big powers know that anyone launching a first strike will trigger massive retaliation from surviving, submarine-based missiles. Such a nuclear war would be an extinction event for humanity, given that debris blown into the atmosphere would blot out the sun.

However, fear of global suicide does not rule out nuclear exchanges in a regional conflict. Israel has possessed nuclear weapons since at least 1967 and would surely use them against Iran if its existence was threatened by the latter. An Indo-Pakistan nuclear exchange remains a distinct theoretical possibility. America seriously considered using tactical nukes during the 1950-53 Korean war.

The obvious worry is that the use of a nuclear weapon in a regional conflict – perhaps as a demonstration when one side is losing to conventional forces – has the potential to trigger step-by-step atomic retaliation that gets out hand accidentally. The more tactical and theatre nukes are around, the more likely that regional conflicts will escalate into something bigger. Which is why the scrapping of the INF Treaty is a turning point.

Go back to the political situation in the 1980s. Reagan was determined to outspend the creaking Soviet economy in developing new conventional and nuclear delivery systems, in large measure to tempt the Russians to bankrupt themselves.

The plan succeeded wildly beyond Reagan’s expectations. But it nearly led to real war. The ageing, paranoid Stalinist leadership in the Kremlin, under Leonid Brezhnev, was not sure Reagan was merely bluffing. They thought a US nuclear first strike was logical, given America was pouring billions of dollars into creating a defensive, anti-missile shield called Star Wars. Not to mention the fact the Pentagon was arming the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill Russian soldiers. Famously, on September 26, 1983, the rickety Soviet early-warning system falsely reported the launching of US Minuteman ballistic missiles. The world was lucky not to have been plunged into a nuclear spasm there and then. But the key element in the 1980s nuclear arms race was the introduction by each side of de-stabilising, intermediate-range nukes in Europe. America deployed Pershing II missiles, capable of hitting Moscow before the Kremlin knew they were coming. With its economy failing, the USSR put its limited cash into countering the Pershing with the equivalent SS20 rocket. Both blocs were signalling that they would confront each other in western Europe.

This new political situation triggered a massive anti-war movement across Europe aimed at getting the new intermediate-range weapons removed. April 1980 saw the publication of the European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Appeal, which began: “We are entering the most dangerous decade in human history. A third world war is not merely possible but increasingly likely ... In Europe, the main geographical stage for the East-West confrontation, new generations of ever more deadly nuclear weapons are appearing”.

This appeal led to the formation of END as a pan-European movement for détente “from below” that united protesters from both sides of the Iron Curtain. END’s leadership included EP Thompson, Mary Kaldor and Ken Coates from the UK but also noted Eastern bloc dissidents such as Roy Medvedev. Bravely, END called not just for the removal of the SS20s and Pershings but for a new kind of politics: “We must commence to act as if a united, neutral and pacific Europe already exists. We must learn to be loyal, not to ‘East’ or ‘West’, but to each other, and we must disregard the prohibitions and limitations imposed by any national state ... We must resist any attempt by the statesmen of East and West to manipulate this movement to their own advantage.”

Arguably, the mass campaign that END triggered across Europe – including conventions in Brussels, Berlin, Coventry, Helsinki and even Moscow – created a climate of public opinion that de-legitimised the deployment of intermediate-range nukes by both power blocs. Stalemated, Reagan and Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader after Brezhnev, agreed to scrap all the Pershings and SS20s. By June 1991, a total of 2692 rockets had been destroyed, 846 by the US and 1846 by the Soviets.

Alas, the era of nuclear peace that ensued has now ended. Why? Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are mutually at fault, though it is arguable that the US – with an economy 13 times bigger than Russia’s and a defence budget 10 times larger – is the bully on the block. Russia is now a middle-rank power increasingly worried by its regional neighbours. This includes China, the world’s second-biggest economy, which was never party to the old INF Treaty.

Moscow has been upgrading the short-range missiles it is legally allowed to keep under INF rules, as a diplomatic bargaining chip in Asia. Naturally, the Americans are suspicious about such legalisms. For instance, INF rules allow ground testing of missiles meant for launch from ships or aircraft – which Russia has done. But what happens if you have an air-launched system that can be repackaged as a ground-fired missile? The Americans claim this is how Moscow is breaking the rules. Equally, the Pentagon has been upgrading its delivery systems.

The new class of bomb-carrying drones is not covered by the old INF treaty. US drones are now as big as houses and easily fitted with nukes.

Russia has also accused the US of being in violation of the INF treaty by deploying fixed missile launchers in Romania in 2017. These fire anti-missile missiles, but could easily launch land attack cruise missiles. The White House knows full well this was deliberately provocative. Incidentally, part of the radar and control for the Romanian missile launchers is at RAF Fylingdales in Yorkshire.

It is now imperative that here in Europe we relaunch the contemporary equivalent of the 1980s END campaign. The INF treaty is potentially rescuable or a new one can be secured – one that outlaws European-based drones as well. Here in Scotland, it is vital the SNP are not sucked into the new Washington-Moscow confrontation.

Instead, Scottish progressive forces should be working across Europe (including in Russia) to create the sort of mass movement that ended the deployment of the SS20s and Pershings. A new Europe is not just possible, it is a necessity. Without it, the world faces oblivion.