BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Wednesday that the military alliance is studying a range of options to deal with what it insists are Russian violations of a key missile treaty but that it wants to avoid sparking any arms race.
The United States on Feb. 2 launched the six-month process of leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty it signed with the Soviet Union in 1987, insisting that a new Russian missile system violates the pact. Russia denies it is in contravention and has announced that it will pull out too.
The INF bans production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers (310-3,400 miles). European NATO allies insist that the pact is a cornerstone of continental security.
Speaking at NATO headquarters, where defense ministers are discussing what to do if the imperiled treaty is abandoned, Stoltenberg said: "This is very serious. We will take our time."
"Our response will be united," he said. "It will be measured and it will be defensive because we don't want a new arms race. And we don't have any intention to deploy new nuclear land-based weapon systems in Europe."
Stoltenberg said that NATO has "a wide range of options, conventional and other options," but he declined to list them, warning that any speculation "would just add to the uncertainty."
The Pentagon believes that Russia's ground-fired Novator 9M729 cruise missile — known in NATO parlance as the SSC-8 — could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice. Russia insists it has a range of less than 500 kilometers. It claims that U.S. target-practice missiles and drones also break the treaty.
European NATO members are especially keen to avoid any nuclear build-up and a repeat of the missile crisis in the 1980s. NATO allies decided to deploy U.S. cruise and Pershing 2 ballistic missiles in Europe in 1983 as negotiations with Moscow faltered over its stationing of SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe.
"What we need to be doing is putting all efforts to ensuring that Russia comes into compliance," British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
"There is still a period of six months where they have the opportunity to do so. But we then have to keep all options open as to how best to deal with this threat in the future," he said.
Stoltenberg is due to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a major annual security conference in Munich, Germany later this week.