Mattis told reporters in Prague on Oct. 28 that the United States is consulting with NATO defense ministers as it negotiates an off-ramp from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.
The treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, prohibits the possession and testing of short- and mid-range ground-launched ballistic missiles. President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 20 that the United States is withdrawing from the treaty. Washington hasn’t yet served a formal notice.
“We are in consultations with our European counterparts,” Mattis said. “I was speaking about it the day before with the German defense minister, and so, as I said, the consultations continue.”
As part of a brief visit to Prague, Mattis was expected to meet with the Czech defense minister, as well as Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
Mattis expected the conversations about the INF to culminate in December, when NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels.
The United States has for years accused Russia of violating the treaty with the deployment of a banned missile system. Moscow, for years, has ignored the accusations, before admitting that the missile system exists and demanding that Washington prove that the system violates the treaty.
Russia has also accused the United States of violating the treaty; Washington has addressed each accusation promptly with an explanation of how the weapons in question were compliant.
National security adviser John Bolton said in Moscow on Oct. 23 that, given Russia’s violations, the only nation now bound by the INF is the United States. Meanwhile, China, Iran, and North Korea have made significant strides to develop and produce missiles banned by the treaty.
Impact on Europe
The INF treaty affects the military theater in Europe. The United States had missiles deployed on the continent prior to the treaty, and Mattis wouldn’t rule out a redeployment once Washington exits the arms pact.
“I never rule things out like that, I also don’t rule it in,” Mattis said. “There are a number of ways for us to respond. It does not have to be symmetric and it’ll be in close consultation with allies.”
NATO placed the blame on Russia for Washington’s planned exit from the accord, saying that it’s highly likely that the Kremlin violated the treaty.
Mattis said he asked his European counterparts to come up with ideas for bringing Russia back to compliance, but none have come back with a proposal.
“Now, a point to remember here is two American administrations, Democrat and Republican, have worked for nearly five years to bring Russia back into compliance,” Mattis said on Oct. 27. “We have met diplomatically and it’s been unproductive over two administrations.”
“Eventually, we have to look reality in the eye,” Mattis added. “That is not to mean that we are walking away from arms control. But arms control must be more than words on the paper. It must be actions, and so I believe that it actually strengthens the level of commitment, because we do not dance around noncompliance issues and look the other way as if everything is fine.”
Questions for Moscow
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Oct. 28 that Moscow has started preparing answers to the questions related to the INF treaty posed by U.S. officials.
“Just a week ago, a couple of days ahead of the announcement of the aim to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, Americans via their embassy in Moscow sent the Russian Foreign Ministry an extensive list of questions which are a concern to them,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry and other agencies are working on answering the questions, Lavrov said, but complained that the short notice on which the questions were served “does not contribute to the sustainable dialogue and predictability.”
Reuters contributed to this report.