Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday he wants to deploy an intermediate-range conventional missile in the Pacific region within months, now that the Trump administration has formally pulled out of a Cold War-era arms control treaty with Russia.

Esper, however, added that it will likely take some time to develop the more advanced land-based missile capabilities. The move is likely to anger China, but Esper said Beijing shouldn’t be surprised by it.

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

Esper’s comments come as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty expired Friday, and the U.S. said it planned to begin testing new missiles that would have been prohibited under the accord.

The U.S. has complained for years that Moscow has been violating the treaty and that a Russian system banned by the agreement is a direct threat to the U.S. and its allies.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formal U.S. withdrawal on Friday, saying that “the United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia.”

Esper,who was confirmed as Pentagon chief on July 23, wouldn’t detail possible deployment locations in Asia, saying it would depend on discussions with allies and other factors.

He downplayed any reaction from China, saying that “80 percent plus of their inventory is intermediate-range systems, so that shouldn’t surprise them that we would want to have a like capability.”

He said that because of the great distances within the Indo-Pacific region, U.S development of effective intermediate-range precision weapons is important.

Some Pentagon estimates have suggested that a low-flying cruise missile with a potential range of about 620 miles could be flight-tested this month and be ready for deployment in 18 months. A ballistic missile with a range of roughly 1,860 to 2,490 miles could take five years or more to deploy. Neither would be nuclear armed.

The INF treaty was signed in 1987 and banned land-based missiles of ranges between 310 and 3,410 miles. Its demise comes as world powers seek to contain the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea. And it signals another milestone in the deterioration of relations between the U.S and Russia.

Esper also added his voice to those who believe that extending the New START Treaty may not make sense. New START expires in February 2021, and is the only remaining treaty constraining U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Trump has called New START “just another bad deal” made by the Obama administration, and has said he wants to negotiate a three-way nuclear arms control agreement among the U.S., Russia and China.

Esper said the U.S. should look at bringing in other nuclear powers and expand the types of weapons controlled by the treaty. He added that he does not believe this will trigger a new arms race, but that the U.S. needs to deploy missile capabilities that can protect both Europe and the Pacific region.

Esper arrived in Sydney for the annual meeting of U.S and Australian defense and foreign ministers. Pompeo is also attending.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his wife Leah arrive at Sydney Airport on August 3, 2019.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his wife Leah arrive at Sydney Airport on August 3, 2019.SAEED KHAN

Esper’s weeklong trip will also take him to New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.

It will be his first overseas trip as a Senate-confirmed secretary. Former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who stepped down before his confirmation, visited both Japan and South Korea in June.

Esper said he is returning to the region in order to affirm the U.S. and his own personal commitments to the Indo-Pacific. The Pentagon’s national defense strategy deems China and Russia as America’s top strategic competitors.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

UAE orders government shakeup as virus erodes economic gains

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates announced a wide-ranging government shakeup on Sunday aimed at creating a more flexible and modern bureaucracy to tackle challenges as the coronavirus and lower oil prices erode what was already sluggish…

‘Frontline’: is it misleading to apply military metaphors to medicine?

In these times we are rightly encouraged to appreciate the work of the “frontline” staff of the NHS and other essential services. But does it make sense to apply military metaphors to medicine? First recorded in the Earl of Orrery’s…

Israel faces prospect of third election within a year after opposition backs out

Israel is facing the prospect of its third election within a year as Benny Gantz, Blue and White party leader, announced on Wednesday that he will not be able to form a new government. Gantz, former President Benjamin Netanyahu’s main…

All parts of UK now on emergency footing to fight coronavirus – minister

LONDON (Reuters) – All parts of Britain are on an emergency footing the likes of which have not been seen since World War Two in the fight against coronavirus, with strategic coordination centers being set up across the country, housing…