The United States is looking to deploy new ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia, the Pentagon chief said, a day after Washington officially withdrew from a landmark arms control treaty with Russia.
“We would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on a flight at the start of a week-long tour of Asia.
Esper added that it will take some time to develop the more advanced land-based missile capabilities, a move likely to alarm the Asian Pacific countries, including China.
Esper did not say where the missiles would be based, but experts have said Asian allies such as Japan and Australia, as well as the U.S. territory of Guam, were among possible deployment sites.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed during the Cold War era, that banned land-based missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers (310-3,410 miles).
U.S. President Donald Trump has long advocated modernizing the U.S. nuclear program, claiming it has “fallen way behind”. Last October, Trump announced an exit from the pact, accusing Moscow of violating it.
This February, the U.S began the process of withdrawing from the INF, to be completed in six months.
In a tit-for-tat response, on July 3 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill suspending Moscow’s obligations under the INF treaty, calling the U.S. decision “a serious mistake.”