Russia and China have condemned the US and accused it of ratcheting up global tensions after it tested a ground-launched cruise missile, just two weeks after pulling out of a cold war-era arms treaty that banned the development of such weapons.
This month the US withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned development of cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500km to 5,500km, citing alleged Russian violations of its rules. The treaty was one of the key pillars of global arms control infrastructure.
The test suggests the US is keen to demonstrate its land-based missile launch capabilities and its ability to develop systems that were banned under the treaty. Analysts have warned that the breakdown of the agreement could herald a new arms race and mass deployment of new missile launching systems in Europe and Asia.
On Monday the US Department of Defense said it had tested a “conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile” on an island off the coast of California. It said the missile had “accurately impacted its target after more than 500km of flight”, adding that the test would “inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”
Moscow said the test proved its claim that President Donald Trump’s administration had long planned to pull out of the treaty in order to develop new medium-range missiles that, it said, presented a threat to Russia if deployed in Europe or Asia.
“It is noteworthy that the test of an advanced Tomahawk missile took place literally 16 days after the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the country’s state-run news agency Tass.
“There can probably be no more clear and explicit confirmation that the development of the corresponding systems was carried out in the United States for a long time and in preparation to withdraw from the pact.”
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that conducting the test so soon after the US withdrew from the INF revealed that Washington’s intent was to “unshackle” themselves, develop advanced missiles and seek military supremacy.
“This move from the US will spark a new arms race . . . and have a serious negative impact on the international and regional security situation,” he added.
The test used systems already deployed on US Navy ships adapted for ground use. Air and sea-launched missiles were not covered by the INF Treaty, which was primarily drawn up to remove US missiles from Europe and protect European cities from Soviet missile strikes.
Mr Ryabkov said the use of an Mk-41 launcher, which the US has deployed in Romania in eastern Europe as part of a missile defence shield, proved Moscow’s long-held suspicions that the launchers could be used for offensive missile strikes that could threaten Russian territory.
“All this is regrettable. The United States has obviously taken a course towards escalating military tensions,” he added. “We do not succumb to provocations.”
Moscow has denied US accusations that it has developed and deployed missiles that breached INF rules.
US officials have said that the country is considering deploying missile systems in Asia.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Monday during a visit to France that Russia would only develop similar missiles “if such strike complexes will be produced by the United States”, adding: “We will not place them in regions of the world until American systems of this kind appear also there.”
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