NATO called on Russia on June 24 to destroy missiles that are in violation of an arms pact with the United States and warned that failing to do so will result in a coordinated, defensive response by the alliance.
The United States and Russia suspended their obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on Feb. 2, triggering a six-month countdown until the treaty is formally void on Aug. 2.
“We call on Russia to take the responsible path, but unfortunately we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so. In fact, it continues to develop and field the new missiles,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on June 25.
The United States and NATO have attempted to convince Russia to return to compliance for years with no success, Stoltenberg said. NATO members are expected to raise the issue again at the upcoming NATO-Russia Council. Washington accuses Moscow of developing and deploying the SSC-8 missile, which violates the range limitations of the INF.
NATO defense ministers are scheduled to meet June 26 to plan for the next steps in case Russia fails to return to compliance. Stoltenberg said that the “response will be defensive, measured, and coordinated.” NATO won’t mirror Russia in its response and will not deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe, he added.
“We do not want a new arms race, but as Russia is deploying new missiles, we must ensure that our deterrents and our defense remains credible and effective. This is NATO’s job,” Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg didn’t provide further details on the planned response, but diplomats said defense ministers will consider more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training, and repositioning U.S. sea-based missiles.
Russia warned on June 24 of a standoff comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis if the United States deploys land-based missile systems near Russia’s borders. United States Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters that at present, Washington was considering conventional, not nuclear weapons, in any possible response.
“All options are on the table but we are looking at conventional systems, that’s important for our European allies to know,” Hutchison said.
President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the treaty in October 2018. Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to assert that Moscow is in compliance with the treaty.
Russian military officials put the missile in question on display in January in a bid to save the treaty. U.S. officials say Russia’s offer to test whether the missile is in compliance with the treaty is bound by unacceptable constraints.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF treaty in 1978. The pact prohibited both nations from possessing both conventional and nuclear-capable short- and mid-range ground-launched missiles.
During the four decades when Russia and the United States we restricted by the treaty, at least 10 other nations developed ground-launched missiles in the prohibited range. All of the nations are geographically positioned to strike Russia but not the United States.
This strategic scenario has drawn years of complaints from Moscow, which eventually turned into noncompliance. According to U.S. intelligence, Russia began developing the nuclear-capable 9M729 in the mid-2000s, flight-tested the missile in the range prohibited by the treaty, and deployed several battalions on its territory, all in violation of the INF.
China has developed a formidable arsenal of missiles that the United States and Russia have been barred from possessing under the treaty, a strategic reality that concerns both Washington and Moscow. Trump has mentioned that he is open to an arms pact that includes China. U.S. diplomats have attempted to bring China into the INF on several occasions. Each attempt has failed.
Reuters contributed to this report.