NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the military alliance is studying a "wide range of options" to deal with alleged Russian violations of a major arms-control agreement, but that the Western allies want to avoid sparking "a new arms race."
Stoltenberg was speaking on February 13 at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where the alliance's defense ministers were discussing what to do if the bilateral 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between Washington and Moscow is abandoned -- as now appears almost certain.
"This is very serious. We will take our time," Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO's response "will be measured and it will be defensive because we don't want a new arms race."
On February 2, the United States launched the six-month process of leaving the INF Treaty after Washington and NATO repeatedly accused Moscow of violating the accord by developing the 9M729 cruise missile, also known as the SSC-8.
Russia, which denies the accusation, said it was also withdrawing from the INF Treaty, which banned both countries from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
U.S. officials have said Russia could save the INF by returning to compliance, but Moscow made clear it had no plans to scrap the 9M729.
Stoltenberg said that NATO had "a wide range of options, conventional and other options," without providing details.
He also reiterated that NATO allies "don't have any intention to deploy new nuclear land-based weapon systems in Europe."
On February 12, the NATO chief said that Moscow "continues to develop and deploy several battalions of the SSC-8 missile."
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen did not rule out any form of defense capability, including nuclear weapons, in response to the threat of Russian nuclear-capable missiles.
"Precisely because we are at the start of the discussion, it is important that we do not start creating hierarchies or take out individual points but really leave the full lineup on the table," von der Leyen said ahead of the talks with her NATO counterparts.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that NATO needed to put "all efforts to ensuring that Russia comes into compliance" with the INF Treaty.
"There is still a period of six months where they can have the opportunity to do so," Williamson said. "But we then have to keep all options open as to how best to deal with this threat in the future."
Stoltenberg announced that he will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the annual Munich Security Conference, which starts on February 15.
"I think it is important to have dialogue with Russia especially when we face so many difficult issues as we face today," the NATO chief said.