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Russian Nuclear Developments Strike Blame Towards the U.S. For New Heightened Stakes

On Thursday, March 1st, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a strategic nuclear development plan for Russian defense in his Presidential Address. The Russian nuclear defense arsenal now extends to include four new weapons, claimed to be beyond the current U.S. capabilities of its nuclear defense arsenal. As an initiator of Russian nuclear build-up, President Putin cited the early United States’ withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 as a main catalyst for continued Russian nuclear efforts.

   
  
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     Credit: Kremlin

Credit: Kremlin

The Cold War-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty prevented the United States and the then Russian Soviet Union from developing a protracted and comprehensive defense system against long-range nuclear ballistic missiles. The treaty was aimed at stemming and deterring nuclear development at the source; if there were limits to the protections that both countries could enlist on their own behalf, they would be de-incentivized to produce weaponry that would provoke threats from their opponents in the first place and necessitate such defense systems. However, after the second Bush administration's withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Putin claims that Russia has been actively increasing its nuclear defense capabilities against the possible threat of American nuclear domination, which culminated in this most recent address.

            The four new weapons outlined by President Putin are as follows:

1.     Sarmat, a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile with liquid-injected fuel that will travel at hypersonic speed and evade all U.S. nuclear detection systems.

2.     A re-entry vehicle unit that can be attached to other Russian missiles to evade U.S. detection systems.

3.     An underwater nuclear-powered drone, much smaller than a typical submarine and faster than a torpedo, which can enact into combat-mode and stay out of range of typical U.S. missile defense systems.

4.     A nuclear-powered cruise missile capable of a long-distance flight path with extensive maneuverability and speed. 

   
  
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     Credit: RU-RTR Russian Television via AP

Credit: RU-RTR Russian Television via AP

While initially alarming, it seems that the United States Department of Defense is unsurprised by these Russian developments. Two of the weapons announced in Putin’s address were acknowledged in this year’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review published by the Department. Furthermore, while the Department acknowledges the potential threat of these new measures against U.S. detection systems, it illustrates how current U.S. ground defense is geared mainly towards the interception of a rogue deployment of a few singular missiles. Russian threats seem somewhat unfounded and impractical if trying to outbid the U.S., for if Russia wanted to deploy such equivalent destruction on U.S. defenses today, it already has the current capabilities to launch numerous missiles to inundate U.S. defense responses, regardless of the capability of these new weapons developments.

Moreover, the complex nuclear technology is also extremely difficult for Russia to develop, some of which have already been attempted and scrapped in the past, by U.S. defense. Additionally, according to recent reports, U.S. officials claim Russian testing of some of these new models have resultantly been unsuccessful, in failed crash landings. The current infeasibility of these weapons is strengthened by Russian claims for a “‘hypersonic’” weapon-- construing something that would travel at five times the speed of sound, which has only been maintained by current technology for roughly over one minute-- are confounded with the technology’s dual ability to engagingly maneuver and navigate across the world. Thus, the main position of the U.S. at this moment is one of not much alarm or initial concern, as Putin’s Presidential Address seems more geared towards inciting nationalistic sentiment in light of his upcoming re-election in March than conveying true immediate threats against the U.S. as a nuclear opponent.

Presently, no major cause for U.S. concern is warranted by Russian proclamations of nuclear armament; however, with continued Russian research and development, we may see further adjustments in the current Nuclear Posture of the U.S.