Aspen, United States – NATO is preparing for a world without a key nuclear arms control treaty and with more Russian missiles, the alliance’s secretary-general has said.
Jens Stoltenberg’s comments on Wednesday at the opening of the annual Aspen Security Forum came just weeks before an August 2 deadline the United States has given to Russia to come back into compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Washington said in February it would suspend in six months its participation in the Cold War-era treaty unless Moscow destroyed a new missile system, which the US and its NATO allies alleges violates the accord. Russia denied the accusation and also gave notice that it would pull out of the 1987 treaty, which banned all ground-based missiles with ranges between 500km and 5,500km.
Stoltenberg said Russia still had time to save what he called the “cornerstone of arms control in Europe”, adding that NATO had been calling the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to move back into compliance. He noted, however, that there was no indication that Moscow was doing anything towards that direction.
“Now Russia has started deploying these missiles again,” referring to the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missiles. “They are mobile, hard to detect, can reach all European cities within minutes reducing the warning time,” Stoltenberg added.
If Russia does not come into compliance by the deadline, Stoltenberg said NATO will respond in a “measured” and “coordinated” manner, with no bilateral actions.
He added NATO’s 29 members would not deploy missile defence systems but could strengthen the integrated air and missile defence already in place in Europe.
The most important thing, Stoltenberg said, was for the alliance to maintain a credible deterrence against Russia.
“I’m concerned about the consequences of the Turkish decision because it means Turkey will not be part of the F-35 programme,” Stoltenberg said. “That’s not good, it’s bad for all of us.”
But he added that Ankara’s relationship with NATO “runs much deeper and is much broader” than the F-35 fighter jet programme, calling it a “key ally” in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
“The fact that we have been able through the global coalition to defeat Daesh, to liberate all the territory Daesh-controlled in Iraq and Syria … and now they don’t control it any more … that’s not least because of the contribution of Turkey,” he said referring to ISIL by its Arabic acronym.
Stoltenberg also underlined Turkey’s contribution to many different NATO operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
“Turkey as a NATO member is much more than the S-400,” he said.
Stoltenberg’s talk kicked off the four-day forum of “public discussion, public debates” about how to build a “stronger America”, according to Nicholas Burns, the director of the Aspen Strategy Group.
When it was founded a decade ago, “terrorism” was a main concern for the US, Burns said, but a global shift in power means “China and Russia” are the “most significant threats to our national security”.
He cited Russian interference in elections, and its aggression in Ukraine, as well as China’s threats to US intellectual property and its crackdown on the Uighur population in Xinjiang as examples of the countries’ changing role in the world.
Burns said the “careful balance” between the US and Russia has now been replaced by outright competition.
Bill Browder, a known Putin critic attending the conference, argued that the changes in Moscow and Beijing are very different problems for the US.
“Russia is more dangerous in the short term because Putin is not acting in the national interest,” he said, accusing the Russian president of “acting in his own kleptocratic interests, so he is a more volatile cannon as he feels more vulnerable.”
But Browder alleged that China “is more dangerous to everybody in the long term, because they have global malign ambitions and they are thinking in terms of centuries as opposed to days weeks and months.”