Russia and China have asked the United Nations Security Council to meet on Thursday over “statements by US officials on their plans to develop and deploy medium-range missiles”.
Moscow and Beijing want to convene the 15-member council under the agenda item “threats to international peace and security” and have requested that UN disarmament affairs chief Izumi Nakamitsu brief the body, according to a request obtained by Reuters news agency.
On Monday, the United States defence department announced that it had tested a conventionally configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500km of flight, the first such test since the US pulled out of Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked in an interview on Fox News on Wednesday whether the test was aimed at sending a message to China, Russia or North Korea and indicated that the main concern was China.
“We want to make sure that we, as we need to, have the capability to deter Chinese bad behaviour by having our own capability to be able to strike at intermediate ranges,” he said.
Esper said on a visit to Australia this month he was in favour of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia relatively soon.
Esper was also asked about a rocket test accident in Russia this month which US officials believe was associated with the Kremlin’s hypersonic cruise missile programme.
“Clearly they are trying to expand their strategic nuclear arsenal to deal with the United States,” he said, adding that all such new weapons would have to be included in any future strategic arms reduction treaty.
“Right now Russia has possibly nuclear-tipped … INF-range cruise missiles facing toward Europe, and that’s not a good thing,” he said.
‘Stoking new arms race’
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the US was in a position to deploy a new land-based cruise missile in Romania and Poland, a scenario he considered a threat that Moscow would need to respond to.
The US has said it has no imminent plans to deploy new land-based missiles in Europe.
This week’s US test would have been banned under the INF Treaty, which prohibited land-based missiles with a range of 500-5,500km, reducing the ability of the US and Russia to launch a nuclear attack at short notice.
China was not a party to the treaty and has a large arsenal of land-based intermediate-range missiles.
Washington formally withdrew from the landmark 1987 pact with Russia on August 2, after determining that Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation the Kremlin has denied.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday that the US test showed that Washington was stoking a new arms race and confrontation, which would have a serious negative effect on regional and global security.
A North Korean spokesman said on Thursday that the US test and plans to deploy F-35 jets and offensive military equipment around the Korean Peninsula were “dangerous” moves that would “trigger a new Cold War” in the region.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced that effective on Thursday it is pulling the plug on a billion-dollar, technically troubled project to build a better weapon that would destroy incoming missiles.
The Pentagon had spent nearly $1.2bn on the project when Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defence for research and engineering, decided last week to end it. In May he had ordered Boeing to stop its work, pending a decision on a way forward.
“Ending the programme was the responsible thing to do,” Griffin said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Pentagon is considering whether it needs to start over with designing a defence against intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, such as those North Korea aspires to build, as well as newly emerging types of missiles.
One indication of that broader concern is the Pentagon’s statement that it will now invite industry competition to develop a “new, next-generation interceptor” – potentially a weapon that could take on hypersonic missiles being developed by China and Russia.