Russia’s new nuclear weapons can penetrate NATO defences, according to its president, but the United States isn’t sounding the alarm.
Russian president Vladimir Putin told his country, and the world, all about Russia’s new nuclear capabilities on Thursday.
He boasted that a new Russian missile cannot be detected by warning systems and can bypass missile defence systems.
WATCH: Putin boasts about new nuclear weapons, missiles that are undetectable
The United States defense department largely dismissed questions about Russia’s capabilities at a press conference Thursday. “These weapons that are discussed have been in development a long time,” said Pentagon spokesperson Dana White. “We weren’t surprised by his statements.”
“The American people should rest assured that we are fully prepared.”
A State Department spokesperson expressed more disappointment than concern. “It was certainly unfortunate to have watched the video animation that depicted a nuclear attack on the United States,” spokesperson Heather Nauert told a news briefing. “We don’t regard that as the behavior of a responsible international player.”
Tom Plant, director of proliferation and nuclear policy at the defence think-tank RUSI, said he was not sure how much of Putin’s announcement to believe.
“The thing that sounds mad, the nuclear-propulsion thing, is potentially feasible,” he said, adding: “I think it’s insane.”
Plant added that while “Russia already has a ton of systems that can threaten and overwhelm U.S. missile defences,” Putin’s announcement reflects his country’s concern that the U.S. missile shield could grow powerful enough to become a game-changer.
“The Russians have a genuine worry from their perspective about where U.S. missile defence might go,” Plant said. “So it totally makes sense for them to try and find ways to defeat not what it is now, but what it may become.”
The U.S. nuclear strategy, released in early February, focused on Russia as the main nuclear threat and outlined American plans to develop new types of weapons to counter that threat.
Some observers are worried about both new technology and the rhetoric that is going along with it. “We live in a more dangerous world as a result of this announcement,” said Elliot Tepper, senior research fellow at Carleton University’s Centre for Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies.
“The world is more dangerous today because we not only have new weapons but we have an absence of the treaties and the diplomatic means to contain them. That’s the real threat.”
Although dozens of countries signed a United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons in September, the United States and other nuclear-armed countries were not among them. Both the United States and Russia are bound by an older treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons towards an eventual goal of disarmament.
“Putin’s statement makes it clear we are in a new arms race that will put us under the terror of a new Cold War, in constant fear of death at any instant,” said Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, an anti-nuclear group.
“While Russia and the U.S. compare the size of their arsenals, the rest of the world is joining a treaty that bans them.”
For now, according to Tepper, mutually-assured destruction is still an important deterrent for nuclear-armed nations. “No state on earth wants to use its weapons, even if it has a temporary advantage, because all states are vulnerable to the weapons currently in place or on the drawing board.”
Putin also suggested that his country’s arsenal was to preserve peace. “The growing military strength of Russia is a secure guarantee of peace on our planet because this strength preserves and will always preserve the strategic balance and a balance of power in the world,” he said.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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