Washington, D.C., United States—The U.S. has threatened to destroy the covert development of a banned medium-range cruise missile if Russia doesn’t immediately cease the program.
According to a Cold War treaty, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the ground-launched missile is unlawful. The INF forbids medium-range cruise missiles that could be used to strike either Europe or Alaska. In 2017, the State Department released an investigation accusing Moscow of violating its treaty obligations. More specifically, the report found a dual violation: First, that the Russian military was developing a medium-range missile (SSC-8) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (roughly 310 to 3,400 miles); and second, that it was also developing launchers that could propel such a weapon.
The missile would allow Russia to conduct a nuclear strike against Europe in a very short notice, leaving little time for the European or American defences to respond.
Kay Bailey-Hutchison, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said that America favours a diplomatic solution to the international issue. She cautioned Russia, however, that this shouldn’t be perceived as a weakness for the U.S. military stands ready to destroy the program if it doesn’t cease.
“At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries. Countermeasures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty,” said Bailey-Hutchison.
The Department of Defence (DoD) also voiced its concerns and took a more multilateral approach. Defence Secretary James 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 Russian government, however, has been vigorously denying the allegations and has repeatedly stressed the legality of the program.
“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” added Bailey-Hutchison.
But the U.S. administration hasn’t limited its response to just pre-emptive. Congress has allocated funds for the research and development (R&D) of a similar missile. The Treaty does allow countries to conduct R&D but forbids the actual production of either a missile or launcher.
Ironically, last year, the U.S. and Russian governments celebrated the Treaty’s 30th anniversary. It seems a long time since President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Treaty.