The Insider

Pentagon projects calm in face of Putin's nuclear weapons claims

March 01, 2018 |
Tony Bertuca
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The Pentagon is unsurprised by Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent claims of new technological breakthroughs in nuclear weapons capabilities, according to a senior Defense Department official who discussed the government's latest Nuclear Posture Review in Washington today.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, who spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Putin's state-of-the-nation speech Thursday night in Moscow was "noteworthy," but consistent with others in the past.

"I was not surprised by much of the content of that," he said. "While President Putin certainly gave a very full-throated explanation, there are elements of his comments that have been present for some time in different comments that he and others have made before. Nonetheless, it is concerning."

Dana White, the Defense Department's chief spokeswoman, delivered a similar message at the Pentagon.

"We're not surprised by the statements," she said. "The American people should rest assured we are fully prepared."

In his speech, Putin said Russia has new weapons including a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone and a new hypersonic missile unmatched by any nation in the world and render NATO missile defense efforts "useless."

Rood said the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy are clear about entering the United States into an "era of great power competition" with Russia and China. Recommendations in the Nuclear Posture Review to develop low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and to reestablish a submarine-launched cruise missile program, he said, have been "animated" by Russia's nuclear posture.

"We're in an era of great power competition again," he said. "Our concern about Russia's capabilities, our concern about Russia's direction . . . predated President Putin's speech yesterday. It doesn't mean I welcome it, but I think it's broadly consistent with things that the Russian government's said in the past."

Some critics of the NPR worry that its SLBM and SLCM recommendations could spark a new arms race or increase the likelihood of miscalculation, but Rood said there is nothing in the Pentagon's plans that increases the number of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Referencing former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Rood said: "If there is an arms race underway, the United States is clearly not a participant."