I belong to a generation shaped by the debate on intermediate range nuclear forces in Europe during the 1970s and 80s. The destructive power of SS20, Pershing and cruise missiles were of profound concern for publics and politicians alike. These weapons were specifically designed for the near-instant destruction of the European continent, and threatened the lives of millions of people.
The whole continent – indeed the whole world – breathed a sigh of relief when the INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Not only did the treaty reduce the number of nuclear missiles, it banned an entire category of weapons, making us all much safer.
But in the last years, Russia has developed, produced, tested and deployed a new intermediate range missile, known as the SSC-8. The SSC-8 is mobile and easy to hide. It is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It reduces warning times to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict. And it can reach European capitals.
Russia’s actions undermine the INF Treaty, placing it in serious jeopardy. The United States is in full compliance with its obligations under the INF Treaty. There are no new US missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles.
A treaty that is respected by only one side cannot be effective and will not keep us safe. If a treaty no longer affects the reality on the ground, then it is nothing more than a piece of paper.
NATO Allies first raised their concerns five years ago, under the Obama administration. Now, after many years of categorical denials, Russia admits the existence of this new missile system.
NATO Allies have repeatedly urged Russia to address our concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and to actively engage in a constructive dialogue with the United States. We repeated that call at our Summit in July, and when we met in the NATO-Russia Council at NATO headquarters in October.
Regrettably, Russia has not heeded our calls. Moscow’s lack of engagement only reinforces our assessment that the new missile system poses a serious risk to the strategic stability of Europe. So I again urge Russia to ensure full compliance with the INF Treaty with full transparency - and without delay.
NATO has no intention to deploy new nuclear missiles in Europe. But as an Alliance, we are committed to the safety and the security of all our nations.
We must not allow arms control treaties to be violated with impunity, because that undermines the trust in arms control in general.
The onus is on Russia. NATO does not want a new Cold War or a new arms race, and we will do all we can to avoid them. But Russia too must play its part. We remain ready to talk with Russia and to work together towards a better and more secure future.
However, NATO must be firm and predictable. If we want to avoid nuclear weapons, we need to make sure that our conventional deterrence and defence is strong. That is why, in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the country’s ongoing pattern of aggressive behaviour, NATO Allies strengthened our collective defence, agreeing to increase our investment in defence and to further modernise our armed forces.
At the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in early December, we will assess the implications of Russia’s actions for the INF Treaty and for our Alliance. North America and Europe will continue to stand together in NATO to ensure peace and security.