NATO secretary general says alliance considering post-INF responses

By Jason Sherman / July 5, 2019 at 12:15 PM

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg vowed the western military alliance "will respond" if Russia does not return to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty but declined to say exactly what measures would be taken, as The New York Times reports that options being considered include bolstering missile defense capabilities across Europe.

"If the treaty is not saved, if Russia doesn't come back into compliance, then NATO will respond," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on July 5 following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, according to a transcript. "We will respond in a united way, coordinated, defensive and we have also stated that we are not planning, we don’t have any intentions to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe. We will not mirror what Russia does. I will not today go into the different elements of what NATO is considering."

In February, the Trump administration announced the United States would withdraw from the Reagan-era treaty citing Russia's deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of between 500km and 5,500 km -- dubbed the 9M729 -- a breach of the U.S.-Russia pact.

Stoltenberg said NATO's near-term hope is that Russia will come back into compliance by an Aug. 2 deadline for Washington and Moscow to save the treaty from termination.

"Our focus now is to save the INF Treaty. If Russia doesn't come back into compliance, then we will respond and we will do that in a defensive way," he said.

The U.S. deployed a land-based version of its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system in Romania in 2016 and plans to stand up a similar capability in Poland next year. Russia has objected to the deployment of these Aegis Ashore capabilities; NATO maintains these systems are designed to defeat Iranian ballistic missile threats and not designed to defeat Russian weapons.

"When it comes to the ballistic missile defense, it is not directed against Russia," the NATO secretary general said. "It is not capable of shooting down Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. So this is a system which is directed against threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area and that’s still the case."

The Times, citing European officials, reported NATO military officials "are exploring whether to upgrade their defenses to make them capable of shooting down newly deployed Russian intermediate-range nuclear missiles after a landmark arms treaty dissolves next month."