Nuclear experts and disarmament advocates are warning that the world is witnessing a new arms race after the United States tested a new missile on August 18.
The test would have violated a Cold War-era treaty President Donald Trump’s administration ditched on August 2.
For years the US government — under both the Barack Obama and Trump administrations — and NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by former-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In August, Washington formally withdrew from the deal, which banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5000 kilometres.
On August 18, the US 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 the following day.
"The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometres 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 spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on August 20: "As for the United States’ 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: "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 stigmatisation, prohibition, and elimination of nuclear weapons."
Responding to Finn's warning, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation deputy director Rick Wayman tweeted: "I'm with Beatrice Fihn. This test of the formerly banned missile took place a short distance from my home in California, giving me an extra reason to stand up and fight this dangerous, unnecessary arms race."
According to DefenseNews: “American officials have stressed they do not plan on building a nuclear ground-based cruise missile capability, but Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said his department 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’.
“Imagery of the test shows the weapon was launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System, the same launcher used in the Aegis Ashore missile defense system. That is notable, as Russia has often claimed the MK 41 presence in Europe as a violation of the INF Treaty, with the belief that the Aegis Ashore systems in Poland and Romania could be converted to offensive systems.
“‘The launcher used in Sunday's test is a MK 41; however, the system tested is not the same as the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System currently operating in Romania and under construction in Poland," Lt. Col Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokes[person], said. 'Aegis Ashore is purely defensive. It is not capable of firing a Tomahawk missile. Aegis Ashore is not configured to fire offensive weapons of any type.'
“‘This test doesn't prove or disprove’ the US 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 on August 19. ‘But it sure adds fuel to the fire.’”
In the aftermath of the INF Treaty collapse in early August, Putin said: "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."
[Abridged from Common Dreams.]