The US believes Russia is developing a ground-launched system and has warned the nation the missiles will be ‘taken out’ if they become operational.
The cruise missile system is thought to be in development in breach of the the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans medium-range missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska.
The missile would allow Russia to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice.
Moscow has denied the allegations, but Washington is prepared to consider a pre-emptive strike if the suspected developments continue.
According to Reuters, US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison explained Washington remained committed to finding a diplomatic solution, but would not be against a military strike if it were necessary.
Speaking at a press conference, Hutchison explained:
Getting them to withdraw would be our choice, of course. But I think the question was what would you do if this continues to a point where we know that they are capable of delivering. At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries.
Counter measures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty.
The United States does not want to withdraw from the treaty; we certainly don’t intend to violate the treaty.
That is our goal: Russia in compliance. But if Russia continues to say they are not violating, while the evidence says that they are, then diplomacy needs to be strengthened and we need to look for other ways to bring Russia to the table on this issue.
In 2017, it emerged that Russia were violating the obligations which ordered them ‘not to possess, produce, or flight-test’ a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, ‘or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.’
According to Politico, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg explained that Russia only recently admitted to owning a new type of ground-launched mid-range missile, known as the 9M729, which violates the treaty.
Speaking at a news conference, he said:
After years of denials, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of a new missile system called 9M729. Russia has not provided any credible answers on this new missile. The most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation of the treaty. It is therefore urgent that Russia addresses these concerns.
We have been trying to send a message to Russia for several years that we know they are violating the treaty, we have shown Russia the evidence that we have that they are violating the treaty.
We are laying down the markers so that our allies will help us bring Russia to the table.
Jim Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense, said the issue would be discussed further with his NATO counterparts at a meeting in Brussels.
Speaking to reporters in Paris, Mattis said:
I cannot forecast where it will go, it is a decision for the president, but I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in State Department, there is a lot of concern about this situation and I’ll return with the advice of our allies and engage in that discussion to determine the way ahead.
The scheduled two-day meeting will begin Wednesday October 3.
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