Nuclear Crisis Group Director on Reports That the US Would “Take Out” Russian Missiles Aimed at Europe

WASHINGTON, DC — The ongoing danger of an accidental or inadvertent conflict between Russia and NATO spiked today after press reports quoted U.S.Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison as stating that the United States was prepared to “take out” Russian missiles aimed at Europe. Immediate and subsequent reporting incorrectly interpreted Hutchinson’s loose talk as a signal of possible preemptive attack by the United States.

The United States and NATO have alleged that Russia is in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty by developing, testing and deploying a ground-based cruise missile with a range between 500 and 5500 kilometers. Russia denies the violation.  

At a press conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Hutchinson responded to a question on how the United States and NATO would respond to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty, stating  that once Russia deploys these missiles “we would be looking at the capability to take out a (Russian) missile that could hit any of our countries.”

Press reaction portrayed this statement as a signal that the United States was developing the means and might be prepared to preemptively attack the Russian missile systems at issue.

In reaction to the breaking, and ongoing story, Jon Wolfsthal, Director of the Nuclear Crisis Group, issued the following statement:

“Ambassador Hutchinson’s remarks were garbled and the headlines about her comments were similarly unclear, but the incident makes obvious how dangerous the current military situation is between Russia and NATO and how a stray statement, remark or action can spark or escalate a crisis. The confusion, adding to the lack of clarity regarding U.S. policy toward Russia, is a reminder that the military standoff and lack of de-escalation tools between NATO and Russia is fraught with risk and needs immediate attention by NATO and Russian leaders and security officials. There is no room for error in such difficult times.”

The Nuclear Crisis Group released a set of urgent recommendations to avoid the use of nuclear weapons and called on national leaders to act now to reduce the unacceptably high risk of nuclear conflict. The report calls for the United States and Russia to immediately re-engage on nuclear weapon and strategic stability issues to resolve current treaty disputes and reduce the risk of conflict that could quickly escalate to nuclear weapon use.


The Nuclear Crisis Group calls on leaders to pursue these immediate steps:

  • Agree to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START);
  • Urgently resume effective US-Russia and NATO-Russia high-level dialogues and military-to-military discussions;
  • Rapidly launch US-Russia strategic stability talks focusing on potential dangers flowing from existing and potential nuclear deployments, doctrines and modernization programs;
  • Initiate immediate and intensive discussions to resolve Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty compliance concerns, including use of the Special Verification Commission;
  • Fully implement, strengthen existing and pursue new accident-prevention agreements related to aviation and incidents at sea beginning with the Baltics and Black Sea regions;
  • Agree to limits and be more transparent on exercises (i.e., better prior notification, limit scale), preferably by modernizing the Vienna Document and constraining certain exercises, such as strategic bomber flight profiles, integration of nuclear elements in conventional exercises, and large, quick deployment military exercises near national borders;
  • Establish a commitment by Russia, the United States and other NATO states not to issue public threats of nuclear first use;
  • Reinvigorate European conventional arms control efforts, including limitation of forward deployments of conventional weapons, stabilization of the Open Skies Treaty, replacement of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and modernization of the Vienna Document; and
  • Implement existing agreements for a Joint Data Exchange Center as a first step to expanding nuclear discussions to other nuclear states.

Additionally, the Nuclear Crisis Group urged these follow-on steps:

  • Examine and define the conditions under which the states could adopt bilateral or multilateral nuclear no-first-use agreements;
  • Hey Pursue a phased de-alerting program of all land-based nuclear-armed missiles;
  • Agree to place all tactical nuclear weapons into central storage under verification; and
  • Broaden future arms control discussions to include additional nuclear reductions, as well as missile defense and precision-strike weapons, and include other nuclear weapon countries as participants or observers.

For a full list of Nuclear Crisis Group members, click here:

For more information, or to speak with Nuclear Crisis Group Director Jon Wolfsthal, please contact Jordan Wilhelmi at +1-612-281-2310 or by email at [email protected]