WASHINGTON — The United States is set to accelerate its development of new cruise and ballistic missile systems following its withdrawal from a nuclear treaty with Russia, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Accusing Russia of “sustained and repeated violations” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US had already begun work to develop “mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.”
As the United States had “scrupulously complied” with its obligations to the 1987 treaty until its formal withdrawal, “these programs are in the early stages,” Esper said in a statement.
“Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions,” he said.
“The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity,” he added.
Moscow has said that Washington is making a “serious mistake” pulling out of the treaty, insisting that the US had abandoned the agreement for its own gain rather than because of alleged Russian violations.
NATO said Friday it hoped to avoid a new arms race with Russia and not deploy nuclear weapons on European soil after Washington and Moscow ripped up the missile pact.
Under the deal, missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles) were eliminated.
That paved the way for the mothballing of Russian SS-20 missiles and American Pershing missiles deployed in Europe.
For years, Washington has accused Russia of developing a new type of missile, the 9M729, which it says violates the treaty — claims that NATO has backed up.
The missile has a range of about 1,500 kilometers, according to NATO, though Moscow says it can only travel 480 kilometers.
NATO backed Washington, saying it would “respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by the Russian 9M729 missile to Allied security.”
The demise of the INF has sparked fears of a new era of weapons development between the heavyweights.
Last year, Putin announced plans to develop new weapons, including a medium-range land-based missile and a land-based version of the Kalibr missiles that have already successfully been used by the navy and tested in Syria.
The US and Russia own more than 90 percent of global nuclear stockpiles, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.