The Pentagon successfully tested “a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California,” the Defense Department said in a statement Monday, adding that “data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”
The missile “accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers” (311 miles) of flight, the department said.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty of 1987 stipulated that the U.S. and Russia would never deploy ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers — either nuclear or conventional. The Trump administration withdrew this month after complaining about long-time violations by Russia and a desire to include China’s fast-growing arsenal in a new accord.
A senior administration official said on Aug. 2 that the U.S. was planning to conduct tests on new missile technology that would have violated the treaty. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that Russia had a long history of noncompliance and “is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.”
While the Pentagon said the missile tested on Sunday was configured for a conventional weapon, missile technology can be adapted to deliver nuclear warheads.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the U.S. to resume nuclear talks to safeguard strategic stability, blaming the Trump administration for the collapse of a key missile treaty and warning of a potential new arms race. The demise of the INF has “created fundamental risks for everyone,” Putin said in a Kremlin statement on August 5. He urged a return to “common sense” in international security policy.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said he isn’t asking allies in Asia to deploy U.S. missiles on their territory, after China warned any country accepting intermediate-range American missiles would face retaliation.
The deal between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union eliminated 2,692 short- and medium-range land-based missiles from their inventories by 1991. The only nuclear agreement still in force between the U.S. and Russia is the 2010 New START treaty limiting their strategic arsenals, and that’s due to expire early in 2021.
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