Nuclear experts and disarmament advocates are warning that the world is witnessing a new arms race after the Pentagon tested a new missile Sunday that would have violated a Cold War-era treaty the Trump administration ditched earlier this month.
After years of the U.S. government—under both the Obama and Trump administrations—and NATO accusing Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987 by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Washington formally withdrew from the deal, which banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,000 kilometers, or about 310 to 3,400 miles.
On Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Defense “conducted a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California,” the Pentagon revealed in a statement Monday. “The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”
According to Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday: “As for the United States’s test of a conventional cruise missile, the news came while [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [French President Emmanuel] Macron were holding talks yesterday. Putin commented on it, saying that such tests only proved that from the very start, the Americans were determined to derail the INF Treaty and were making preparations for it.”
In response to the Pentagon’s announcement, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), tweeted Monday that “the nuclear weapons arms race is here and we all have a choice; remain passive and wait for these weapons of mass destruction to be used OR fight for the stigmatization, prohibition, and elimination of nuclear weapons.”
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“This test doesn’t prove or disprove” the U.S. government’s claim that the system in Europe couldn’t launch Tomahawks, Matt Korda, a research associate at the Federation of American Scientists’s Nuclear Information Project, wrote in a series of tweets Monday. “But it sure adds fuel to the fire.”
In the aftermath of the INF Treaty collapse in early August, Putin said that “if Russia obtains reliable information that the United States has finished developing [new intermediate-range nuclear missiles] systems and started to produce them, Russia will have no option other than to engage in a full-scale effort to develop similar missiles.”