NATO chief threatens response if Russia doesn’t comply with nuclear treaty

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Correction: The Aug. 2 deadline was set by the United States, a member of NATO. The alliance’s secretary general referred to the deadline, but did not set it.

BRUSSELS — NATO’s secretary general has warned Russia will face “credible and effective” measures should the country not comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by an Aug. 2 deadline set by the United States.

The 1987 INF Treaty was established as a safeguard against nuclear war. Russia is accused of violating the treaty — a charge it strongly denies, instead accusing the U.S. — an alliance member — of flouting the pact by deploying missile-defense facilities in Eastern Europe. If Moscow does not comply by the deadline, Washington will also withdrawal from the treaty, according to the Trump administration.

“In the event Russia does not comply, our response will be defensive, measured and coordinated,” Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday at a news conference, where he also discussed progress on defense spending goals and plans for space. “There is still a small window of opportunity for Russia to comply with the treaty, but it is getting smaller and smaller. If the treaty breaks down, the responsibility for this lies solely with Russia.”

Possible measures will be discussed at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, he added.

When asked for specifics, Stoltenberg said: “Our response will be measured, as we do not want a new arms race. But we must ensure our defense remains credible and effective. This is NATO’s job.”

“I will not preempt the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting and I cannot say what the ministers will decide on Wednesday, but we will need to respond if Russia does not comply,” he added. “Some measures can be implemented quite quickly but others will take more time.”

He did say that new and unspecified measures could be adopted against Russia as soon as this week.

Russian military officers stand by as the 9M729, center, its launcher, left, and the 9M728, right, land-based cruise missiles are displayed in Kubinka outside Moscow on Jan. 23, 2019. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)
Russian military officers stand by as the 9M729, center, its launcher, left, and the 9M728, right, land-based cruise missiles are displayed in Kubinka outside Moscow on Jan. 23, 2019. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

“The U.S and other NATO allies have tried to engage with Russia for years, and I again call on Russia to take the responsible path and comply with the treaty. But I have to say I see no sign of this,” he said.

“In fact, Russia is developing new missiles in violation of the treaty,” he added, pointing to the deployment of Russia SSC-8 missiles, which “have been of concern for several years.”

“There is no doubt Russia is violating the treaty, and now is the time to tell the Russians that if it does not comply with the treaty, there will be no treaty,” he continued. “There are just five weeks left for Russia to save the treaty. They still have time to respect the INF, but time is running out.”

Stoltenberg also said NATO allies were “on track” to meet a target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Eight allies are now spending 2 percent on defense, up from three members in 2014. By the end of next year, European members and Canada will have added a cumulative total of more than €100 billion (U.S. $114 billion) since 2016, he said.

“This is a good trend, and we expect this to continue. The majority of allies have plans to reach 2 percent by 2024,” he said.

According to the NATO chief, most alliance members have increased their defense spending by double digits since 2014 and are boosting investment in new capabilities.

This year, 16 NATO members are expected to meet the benchmark of at least 20 percent of defense spending devoted to major equipment, and almost all members have plans to do so by 2024.

“Allies are also stepping up with more forces for NATO missions and operations. This is impressive progress and a sign of commitment and that NATO is on the right track. But we must keep up the positive momentum,” Stoltenberg said.

Ministers will approve NATO’s first-ever space policy at Wednesday’s ministerial meeting, Stoltenberg said at the news conference.

The meeting will be the first NATO event attended by acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is heading to Europe to try to persuade reluctant and increasingly wary NATO allies to work with the Trump administration on Iran sanctions and security in the Middle East, amid concerns the U.S. and Iran are on a path to war.

Stoltenberg said the defense ministers will discuss creating a framework for how the alliance should deal with opportunities and challenges in space “for alliance security and operations.”

“Space is part of our daily lives. And while it can be used for peaceful purposes, it can also be used for aggression. Satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponized,” he said. “Anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications. So it is important that we are vigilant and resilient — also in space.”



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