The United States is researching the development of a ground-based cruise missile, banned by a Cold War-era treaty, because it believes Russia has already violated the agreement, it was reported on Thursday.
The aim of developing the banned weapon is to force Russia to comply with the arms control agreement, unnamed US officials told the Wall Street Journal.
The US believes that Russia has already deployed a banned cruise missile that threatens US and Nato facilities in Europe.
By developing its own missile, the US hopes to demonstrate to Russia its military prowess and to force Moscow to back-down.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INV) was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, at the White House in 1987, coming into effect the following year. It was a crucial step in the process of ending the Cold War.
The treaty banned all short and intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500–5,500 kilometres (310-3,420 miles). Sea-launched missiles were excluded from the agreement.
“The idea here is we need to send a message to the Russians that they will pay a military price for violation of this treaty,” an official told the Wall Street Journal. “We are posturing ourselves to live in a post-INF world...if that is the world the Russians want.”
The US military stated earlier this year that the deployment of the missile by Russia deliberately threatened US and Nato facilities in Europe.
The New York Times reported last month that Russia had built two battalions of the banned missile, thought to contain four launchers and six missiles. One was said to be at Russia’s missile test site at Kapustin Yar in southern Russia near Volgograd, while the other was moved to an operational base at an unknown location elsewhere in the country.
Moscow said the report was "fake news".
The US government has known since 2012 that Russia was building the banned missile and Republicans made frequent calls for the Obama administration to confront President Vladimir Putin about it.
US officials demanded in November last year that Russia admit they were violating the treaty, but Russian officials denied it.
James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary, said at a Nato conference last week: “We have a firm belief, now, over several years, that the Russians have violated the INF. And our effort is to bring Russia back into compliance."
The US Senate on Thursday passed a $700 billion defence policy bill, which included authorisation for the defence department to spend $58 million to counter Russia’s violation of the INF.
The measure, passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, will now go to the White House to be signed by President Donald Trump.
The US itself would only be in violation of the INV if it tested the missile it is developing.
The defence bill stated: “The INF Treaty prohibits testing and deployment of ground-launched intermediate-range missile systems, but it does not prohibit research and development.
“The conferees do not intend for the United States to enter into a violation of the INF Treaty so long as the treaty remains in force, and nothing in this provision should be construed to force the United States into a violation of the treaty.”