US conducts first missile test after exiting cold war era INF treaty
The United States has announced it conducted its first test of an intermediate range missile after it pulled out earlier this month of a cold-war era treaty that had banned them by firing a ground-based cruise missile from an island in California on Sunday.
The “conventionally-configured” (not nuclear-tipped) missile “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight,” the US department of defense said in a statement Monday, adding, “data collected and lessons learned” will inform the development of future intermediate-range capabilities.
The United States announced the expiry of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on August 2 accusing Russia of violating it by testing and deploying missiles banned by it. The pact was signed in 1987 by the United States and then Soviet Union and it required the US and Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union) to stop producing and give up their ground-based nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. The two sides destroyed about 2,700 such missiles by 1991.
The United States wants any future arms control agreement or pact to also include China, which, a senior US military leader told lawmakers at a hearing, has “already the largest and most diverse missile force in the world, with an inventory of more than 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles”, 95% of which would be in violation of the INF.
The end of the treaty has sparked widespread fear of a resumption of cold-war era arms race, compounded by expectations that the United States is willing to also kill the New START (New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), signed by the United States and Russia in 2010, which prevents the two countries from deploying more than 1,550 nuclear warheads or 700 launchers.
The United States plans a robust resumption of tests and deployments of these missiles post-INF. Initial research and development efforts will be “focused on mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems”, US defense secretary Mark Esper said in a statement on August 2. “Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions and as part of the Joint Force’s broader portfolio of conventional strike options.”
The United States, he added “will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity”.
The Pentagon head went on to suggest, talking to reporters a few days later, that he would like to deploy ground-based missiles in Asia “sooner than later”, perhaps “months”.
China reacted angrily, as anticipated and a Chinese arms control official warned of “countermeasures if the US deploys intermediate-range ground-based missiles in this part of the world”.