UNITED NATIONS - The United States and Russia traded accusations Thursday at the U.N. Security Council over the recent collapse of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
"We are here today because the Russian Federation preferred a world in which the United States continued to fulfill its INF Treaty obligations, while the Russian Federation did not," U.S. envoy Jonathan Cohen told council members.
The U.S. withdrew from the treaty on Aug. 2, in order to develop its own warheads after the Russians refused to destroy their new missiles, which NATO said violated the pact.
"Indeed, the Russian Federation and China would still like a world where the United States exercises self-restraint while the Russian Federation and China continue their arms build-ups unabated and unabashed," Cohen added.
The United States says Russia and China are upgrading and diversifying their nuclear weapons capabilities and their arsenals are likely to grow significantly over the next decade.
Russia, which called Thursday's meeting along with ally China, accused Washington of wanting to "flex their muscles."
"On the whole, do you realize that because of the U.S.'s geopolitical ambitions, we are all one step from an arms race that cannot be controlled or regulated in any way?" Deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said. "We are very concerned by the prospect of that. But our American colleagues, it seems, are not."
Polyanskiy said Washington has "consistently and deliberately violated the INF treaty for some time already."
"Today, there are no U.S. ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. Zero," Ambassador Cohen emphasized. "In contrast, Russia has developed and deployed multiple battalions of such missiles. China possesses approximately 2,000 missiles that would have been prohibited under the INF Treaty had China been a party to it."
"It is unacceptable to use China as an excuse for leaving the treaty," Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun responded. "China rejects the baseless accusations by the United States."
Zhang said China has a defensive military policy and its missiles are deployed within its territory. He urged Moscow and Washington to engage in dialogue to resolve their differences.
China, as well as several other council members, expressed concern that another disarmament agreement between Russia and the U.S. - the nuclear arms reduction treaty known as New START - is due to expire in February 2021 and urged the parties to renew it.
The European members of the Security Council, who are part of the NATO alliance, expressed support for the U.S. position, each blaming Moscow for bearing the "sole responsibility" for the INF's demise.
"Over a long period, Russia violated the INF Treaty by secretly developing and deploying non-compliant missiles; specifically a mobile-launch missile system, the 9M729," said Britain's political coordinator Stephen Hickey. "These missiles are hard to find, rapidly deployable and can target European cities with conventional or nuclear warheads."
He said Russia refused to acknowledge their existence until the U.S. identified the missile using its Russian designation.
Council members from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East avoided finger pointing, but expressed fears the treaty's collapse would trigger a new arms race. They said Russia and the U.S. have a special responsibility as nuclear powers and should cooperate.
"The total elimination of nuclear weapons and the legally-binding assurance that they will never be produced again is the only guarantee that these weapons will never be used," said South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila.
The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union eliminated missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,500 kilometers. It was a key achievement of post-Cold War arms control in Europe.