The United States on Friday signaled its intention to accelerate the development of new conventional missiles hours after it had signed with Russia the death of the emblematic INF treaty on intermediate arsenals, seeming to justify fears of a revival of the race armaments.
After six months of deaf dialogue and reciprocal accusations of violations, Russia and the United States let the ultimatum issued by the Donald Trump administration in February expire, accusing each other of being responsible for the end of this Bilateral text from the Cold War.
The US president said any new treaty should also include China, whose military rise is a growing concern in Washington.
For the Americans, Moscow has increased its capabilities in recent years in a manner incompatible with the INF Treaty, which concerned missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km and in the 1980s allowed the elimination of Russian missiles SS20 and Pershing, at the heart of the euro-missiles crisis.
“Now that we have withdrawn, the Defense Ministry will fully pursue the development of these conventional missiles fired from the ground in a cautious response to Russia’s actions,” said US Defense Minister Mark Esper.
Russia responded by accusing Washington of “making a big mistake” and creating “a virtually insurmountable crisis”. She again proposed a “moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range weapons”, which NATO rejected.
Secretary-General of the Atlantic Alliance Jens Stoltenberg assured that Westerners did not want “a new arms race”. But the signals sent by Moscow and Washington raise serious concerns, especially in Europe.
The neutral country at the forefront of the Cold War, Austria worried about the “threat” now hovering over Europe and called on Moscow and Washington to commit “voluntarily” not to deploy missiles nuclear weapons on the continent.
“The end of this treaty increases the risk of instability in Europe and erodes the international arms control system,” added Paris.
- – New arms race? –
“The United States has raised their concerns with Russia since 2013,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who prides himself on the “full support” of NATO member countries. But Moscow has “systematically rejected for six years the US efforts for Russia to respect again” the text, he added.
In question, the Russian missiles 9M729, which represent in his opinion a “direct threat” for the Americans and their allies, although Russia ensures that they have a maximum range of 480 km.
Several talks between the two rival powers have proved unsuccessful since February. They even had reason to want to get out of this text which was negotiated by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987.
The Pentagon wants to have more free hands to modernize its arsenal to counter the rise of China, which seeks to assert its military supremacy in Asia.
Speaking Friday in the White House gardens, Donald Trump said Beijing and Moscow should be involved in any new text to replace the INF Treaty. “It would be a very good thing for everyone,” he said.
And the Russian side, the Kremlin is not unhappy to get rid of a tool deemed to the advantage of Washington.
Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration wants to usher in “a new era of arms control” going beyond the US-Russia bilateral framework and also China – a proposal that does not seem to interest Beijing at this stage.
“Russia would like to do something about a nuclear treaty, I agree,” President Trump said Thursday without further details.
There is now only one bilateral nuclear agreement between Moscow and Washington: the START Treaty, which maintains the nuclear arsenals of both countries well below the level of the Cold War and whose last installment expires in 2021.
“The chances of it being prolonged are low, so there will be nothing to limit the new nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia,” predicts Russian analyst Alexander Saveliev.
If the Trump administration has promised for the time being not to deploy new nuclear missiles in Europe, it has made no promises about the deployment of conventional weapons.