Have you freaked out about Russia’s new missiles yet? Vladimir Putin gave a speech in which he outlined what U.S. intelligence has known for some time: They’ve got some fancy new missiles that can go farther and evade detection and destruction better than ever before. Per WaPo:
Putin on Thursday described Russian missile capabilities that had been little-discussed publicly in Washington in recent years — cruise missiles equipped with nuclear-propulsion engines, giving them essentially unlimited range and the ability to follow an unpredictable flight path. To demonstrate the point, Putin showed a video animation of a missile launched in the Russian Arctic evading missile defenses as it crossed the Atlantic, rounded the southern tip of South America, and headed toward the United States.
The speech, lasting two hours and held near the Kremlin, also mentioned underwater drones with nuclear-powered engines. Putin is up for re-election on March 18, and the speech focused on more than just military matters, but it was the weapons talk that resonated the most in America.
Scary videos implying U.S. carnage are a classic North Korean tactic, and they’re always meant for one purpose—a show of strength aimed at deterrence. Note Putin’s quote at the end of his presentation: “I hope everything that has been said today will sober any potential aggressor.”
So why now? These aren’t new weapons or developments, so what explains the announcement? Beyond the looming election, this is purely a response to perceived American aggression:
While the weapons Putin unveiled have likely been in development for years, his confrontational tone appeared in part to be a response to the Trump administration’s more hawkish approach to nuclear weapons. Putin said that Pentagon plans announced last month to introduce two new types of nuclear weapons and broaden scenarios for their use “provoke great concern.”
With a defense budget far smaller than that of the United States, Russia is ill-positioned to compete in a traditional arms race. But Putin’s visual presentation of new Russian weaponry seemed designed to show Washington that it intended to maintain pace with the United States as a nuclear superpower.
In other words, he’s nervous, and you would be too if you had to face down a superpower like the U.S. with a man like Donald Trump at the helm.
These weapons may be bigger and better, and the U.S. may have bigger and better weapons too, but the essential situation remains the same—as has been the case for decades, each country has the capacity to destroy the other in a hellfire of nuclear weapons, and neither country has to the ability to destroy the other in a way that avoids instant and fatal retaliation. That’s the essence of mutually assured destruction.
Nothing has changed. It would still take an act of unbelievable idiocy from one side or the other to trigger a nuclear war, and the only difference today is that if it happens, we might be killed by slightly better weapons.