Members of the military alliance agreed, during a meeting at its Brussels headquarters, to deploy a “wide range” of countermeasures if the Kremlin continues to flout a major international arms agreement.
However, they ruled out “mirroring” Russia’s actions by deploying more of their own nuclear weapons in Europe, saying the West “doesn’t want a new arms race” with Moscow.
The United States and Russia suspended their obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on Feb. 2, triggering a six-month countdown until the treaty—which has been in place since 1987—is formally voided on Aug. 2.
At issue is Russia’s SSC-8 missile system—a long-range and hard-to-detect nuclear weapon that can hit European cities within minutes of launch.
At a press conference on June 26, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said all alliance members support the U.S. stance that “a treaty that is only respected by one side will not keep us safe.”
“Russia’s SSC-8 missile system violates the INF treaty and is a significant threat to our security. We continue to urge Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance.
“However, we have seen no sign that Russia is willing to do so. On the contrary, it continues to produce and deploy the SSC-8 missiles, so NATO is preparing for a world without the INF treaty,” Stoltenberg said. “Ministers have agreed today that NATO will respond should Russia fail to return to compliance. NATO will remain measured and defensive in everything we do.”
Stoltenberg said measures discussed included new military exercises, extra intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and bolstering both air and missile defense systems and conventional forces.
“Russia’s choice is simple—return to compliance and uphold its arms control commitments or continue its irresponsible and dangerous behavior and bear the full responsibility for the demise of the treaty,” Stoltenberg said.
“We have shown a will to wait. We have tried again and again to bring them back into compliance but at some stage we have to make it clear that an arms control agreement doesn’t work if it’s only respected from one side.”
On June 26, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament unanimously passed a bill to suspend the country’s participation in the INF treaty—meaning it only requires sign off from President Vladimir Putin to come into force.
Stoltenberg said the development “doesn’t surprise us,” as it was part of a pattern of increased Russian aggression, including the annexation of Crimea and troop mobilizations, that the alliance has “been witnessing for years.”
The INF prohibits both the United States and Russia from possessing or testing ground launch missiles that have a range of between 300 and 3,100 miles.
Russia is believed to have 64 SSC-8s, which entered into service in 2017 and can travel an estimated 1,500 miles when equipped with nuclear warheads.
At the meeting, which was the first to be attended by new acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, alliance countries also discussed boosting military spending in capitals outside Washington.
Stoltenberg unveiled figures showing a real-terms increase of 3.9 percent in 2018 across Europe and Canada, which has added more than $100 billion to NATO’s capabilities.
Esper said Washington wanted to “strengthen the alliance and to increase our readiness” and that “first and foremost of importance to the U.S. will be more equitable and increased burden-sharing by all of our allies.”
The summit started hours after the UK’s defense ministry revealed it had scrambled Royal Air Force jets deployed in Estonia twice in a single day to intercept Russian aircraft.
The Eurofighter Typhoons were launched to cut off Su-27 fighters and a military transport carrier, bringing the number of incidents involving Kremlin planes to 11 in the past two months.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defense said the UK continues to operate “in support of NATO to reassure our allies and is a further demonstration of the UK’s commitment to the security of the region.”