The US has “no plans” to deploy new missiles to Europe, a senior official said Thursday, despite announcing it will pull out of a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.
Last month’s decision by President Donald Trump, to terminate US participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) sparked alarm from some European countries and warnings from the Kremlin of a new arms race.
Washington says Russia has been violating the treaty since 2013 with a new missile system and repeated attempts to persuade Moscow to come back into compliance have been met with silence or obfuscation.
While Trump has signalled the US will pull out, officials said that as yet no legal steps have been taken to put the decision into effect and American officials are currently in Europe to consult allies and try to reassure them.
A senior administration official told reporters in Brussels that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allegation that Washington is stoking a new arms race was unfounded, saying “there is only one runner and that’s Russia — they’ve been building these missiles for five years as fast as they can”.
“We have no plans to deploy anything new to Europe,” the official said, stressing that in particular there were no plans for new US nuclear weapons to come to Europe.
However the official did not rule out possible future deployments.
The US and NATO say Russia’s 9M729 missile programme, also known by the designation SSC-8, breaches the INF, which prohibits ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
The agreement, signed by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ended an alarming arms build-up in Europe triggered by Moscow’s deployment of SS-20 nuclear missiles targeting Western European capitals.
US officials say that Russia has effectively pulled out of the INF already, and it would undermine America’s ability to support Europe’s defence if it remained unilaterally committed to the treaty.
But they insist the US remains committed to other global arms control mechanisms, pointing to recent talks with Russia on the New START treaty aimed at reducing stockpiles of strategic nuclear warheads.
The INF may come up when Trump and Putin meet in Paris at the weekend for World War I centenary events, where Russian officials say they are expected to speak “briefly”.
After what he called “productive” talks with Putin on arms reduction in Moscow last month, Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton said the INF was “a Cold-War bilateral treaty in a multipolar world” that did not cover the activities of countries such as China or North Korea.