Russia slams new US nuclear weapons proposal | News | DW | 03.02.2018
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Defense

Russia slams new US nuclear weapons proposal

In a new report, the Pentagon proposes increasing the military's "tactical nukes" to counter Russian threats. The Kremlin slammed the proposal, calling it "bellicose" and "anti-Russian," and vowed to defend itself.

Moscow on Saturday sharply criticized Washington's new plan to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, and said it risked provoking a renewed nuclear arms race.

The foreign ministry issued a statement, saying, "The bellicose and anti-Russian nature of this document is obvious," adding that it was "deeply disappointed."

The Kremlin said Russia would respond in order to ensure its own security. 

"We must take into account the approaches that are now circulating in Washington and take necessary measures to ensure our security," the ministry said.

Read more: Scientist group moves 'Doomsday Clock' to 2 minutes to midnight

The US currently has at least 150 nuclear warheads in Europe, but the new proposal would eliminate the need to stockpile the weapons there. Instead, the arsenal would be moved offshore and mounted on US submarines and ships.

A reorganization of the United States' nuclear arsenal would also include the development of new low-yield atomic bombs with an eye toward Russia, according to a Pentagon statement released Friday.

The renewed enthusiasm for nuclear weapons in Washington is a shift from the presidency of Barack Obama, who called for the elimination of nuclear arms in a landmark speech in Prague in 2009, but nonetheless moved to modernize the arsenal.

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What the Pentagon's nuclear posture review says:

  • US concerns about Russia overshadow worries about North Korea, Iran and China.
  • Russia believes America is unlikely to use its regular, large-yield nuclear weapons to avoid large-scale retaliation.
  • The US and NATO require a wider range of low-yield nuclear weapons to counter that Russian belief.
  • The US should continue the nuclear modernization program ordered by Obama, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic weapons, submarine-launched rockets and bombs delivered by plane.

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'Anti-Russian cliches'

The Kremlin also slammed the new Pentagon report for its language and tone, which it said cast Russia in a negative light.

The document is filled "with all sorts of anti-Russian cliches" and "ends with unfounded allegations" that Moscow has breached past agreements on arms control.

The foreign ministry said Russia would "strictly respect its obligations in respect to all the international accords."

The US has accused Russia of violating a 1987 agreement between Washington and the Soviet Union by deploying an intermediate-range missile system. Moscow maintains that it has not violated the accord.

"We are on the cusp of a new era of nuclear proliferation," warned Barry Blechman, co-founder of the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan anti-nuclear proliferation think tank in Washington. "This is the great nuclear danger raised by the new nuclear policy."

Read more: Nobel Peace laureates — Nuclear war is 'one tantrum away'

Shifting priorities: The Pentagon is shifting its priorities from the fight against Islamist militants to a great power competition with Moscow and Beijing, according to a new national defense strategy unveiled in January, and this nuclear strategy forms part of that shift.

What are low-yield nuclear weapons? They typically have a strength of less than 20 kilotons. This is still devastating and comparable to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The new weapons would be launchable from submarines or ships and could supposedly avoid air defenses more easily.

Is this a complete reversal? Barack Obama undertook a modernization of the nuclear arsenal, and the new Pentagon document is largely in line with the previous review in 2010.

What does Russia's stockpile look like? US officials argue Russia has expanded and modernized its low-yield weapons since 2010.

What happens next? According to the recommendations, the US would first reduce the payload of "a small number" of existing long-range ballistic missiles carried by Trident strategic submarines and in the long term, develop a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

Read more: Russia mulls boosting missile capabilities on NATO border

bik, aw/ng (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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