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US tests ground-launched ballistic missile that would’ve been banned by INF treaty

12 Dec, 2019

The Pentagon has conducted a second test of a missile that would have been banned under the INF treaty with Russia, which the US abandoned earlier this year. A ground-based ballistic missile flew for over 500 kilometers.

The conventionally configured test missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday, the US Department of Defense confirmed in a statement, giving no further details.

“Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” the statement said.

Thursday’s test follows the cruise missile launch in August, just days after the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty expired due to the unilateral US exit.

Signed in 1987, at the height of the Cold War, the INF banned the US and the Soviet Union – later Russia – from fielding missiles with a range between 500 and 5,000 kilometers (310 and 3,400 miles).

The Trump administration accused Russia of possessing a missile that violated the treaty, something that Moscow has denied. Russian offers for NATO to inspect the allegedly offending missile system were ignored. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his advisers further rationalized their exit by calling the INF a “relic” of the Cold War, an “obsolete” treaty that no longer reflected strategic reality, because it did not apply to China or other countries with ballistic missile capabilities.

The new test comes just days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Washington and discussed the possible extension of the New START nuclear reduction treaty with Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Moscow has said it was willing to extend the treaty, which expires in February 2021, by five years to allow time for a new deal to be negotiated.

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Washington has not signaled any interest in doing either, however. Trump has talked about a potential new nuclear deal that would include Russia, China and other countries, but the US has not offered a specific proposal to that effect.

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