Russian President Vladimir Putin asked his top military generals on Thursday to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems.”
Putin’s remarks came just ahead of US President-elect Donald Trump’s statement on Twitter: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
The statements from Putin and Trump came in the worrisome backdrop of NATO’s decision to deploy thousands of new troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states along the Russian border.
According to Foreign Policy, Germany will lead a multinational battalion in Lithuania, with similar units to be led by the U.K. in Estonia and Canada in Latvia. The moves display “very strong signals to allies and to Russia about American resolve,” said Lisa Sawyer Samp, who directed NATO and European strategic affairs activities on the National Security Council until 2015.
The outgoing US President Barack Obama has already sanctioned a $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative — which would put more U.S. troops in Europe. The money will help fund the deployment of two more U.S. brigades — about 8,000 soldiers in all — to Eastern Europe and the Baltics next year.
The fund will also pay for placing about 1,600 tanks, artillery pieces, and other vehicles in a storage facility in The Netherlands. The prepositioned gear is intended to allow U.S. troops to deploy more quickly. Other vehicles will be stored in Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland and Romania.
Observe24x7 reported on Tuesday that Russia had undertaken an unprecedented evacuation drill for more than 40 million civilians to prepare for a possible nuclear war. More than 200,000 emergency services personnel and soldiers had used 50,000 pieces of equipment during the exercise. ( https://observe24x7.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/russia-held-nuclear-war-drill-involving-40-million-people-in-october-is-the-world-heading-towards-a-major-war/ )
The Foreign Policy noted with concern: “The unexpected comments from two men — who have expressed a willingness to work together to reduce tensions — show how tough it may be to overcome great-power rivalries, driven both by Moscow’s desire to reclaim its place in the world and a nervous NATO bulking up against a perceived threat.”
On Friday, Trump took a step forward and told ,” MSNBC, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” He did not specify which countries he was referring to.
But Putin on Thursday warned that his government was “adjusting plans to neutralize potential threats to our country.” His Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu added, “for the first time in its history,” Moscow has blanketed the Russian border with early warning anti-missile systems, and announced plans to deploy more troops to Russia’s western borders with NATO, and to the Arctic.
The NATO deployments and new Russian divisions establishing themselves just over the border from Ukraine and the Baltic states represent the most significant stare-down between Moscow and the alliance since the end of the Cold War.
Experts have said that Trump’s tweet, which came a day after he met a host of military officials, involved in the U.S. nuclear program, only complicated matters.
“Our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen,” Trump had said during his second debate in October against Clinton. “We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.”
According to Kingston Reif, director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association, “Every president since the end of the Cold War has reduced the size of the nuclear arsenal,” and change in that policy would be “a very concerning and destabilizing symbol for the rest of the world about the U.S. commitment to reducing nuclear weapons.”
Washington has accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty by conducting flight tests of the missile in recent months, and officials have said they fear Russia is building more missiles than they would need merely for testing, sparking fears they could be deployed.
As it stands, the U.S. government is slated to spend $1 trillion in modernizing and replacing elements of the “nuclear triad” in the coming decades, including new intercontinental ballistic missiles, and nuclear-capable bombers and ballistic missile submarines. Expanding the nuclear force could carry a similarly massive price tag, which would be hard to square with Trump’s plans to cut taxes and reduce federal revenue.