US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday said the Pentagon would deploy ground-based intermediate-range conventional missiles in Asia a day after the White House withdrew from a key Cold War-era treaty.

“It’s fair to say, though, that we would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” said Esper. “I would prefer months. I just don’t have the latest state of play on timelines.”

On Friday, the US formally exited from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), citing alleged violations by Russia. European officials have described the withdrawal as a risky move that undermines security on the continent.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “Europe is losing part of its security” with the demise of the INF treaty. “I am convinced that today we must again succeed in agreeing rules on disarmament and arms control in order to prevent a new nuclear arms race.”

Read more: Opinion: Scrapping the INF treaty is risky — and a lost opportunity

Heiko Maas speaks to reporters

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the collapse of the INF makes Europe less secure

‘Shouldn’t surprise’ China

Esper said that the move would likely raise tensions with China at a moment when relations across the Pacific are strained under an ongoing trade war.

“80% plus of their inventory is intermediate range systems, so that shouldn’t surprise them that we would want to have a like capability,” Esper said.

Some have urged restraint, saying the collapse of the INF treaty should not lead to world powers bolstering their arsenal of intermediate-range missiles.

“We don’t want a new arms race,” said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. “We have no intention to employ new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.”

The US has suggested establishing a new treaty with China and Russia.

Read more: Landmark INF nuclear arms treaty is history: What now?

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US, Russia trade blame for ending INF treaty

ls/jlw (Reuters, AP)

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