The United States announced this week that it would begin refurbishing its nuclear missile systems, an overhaul that is estimated to take roughly 20 years to complete, in a direct response to the upgrades made to the nuclear capabilities of Russia, China, and North Korea. And it did not push aside fears of a looming World War 3 when Defense Secretary Ash Carter made a speech at a nuclear missile silo this week where he called upon NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) members to “refresh their nuclear playbook.” In what looks to be nothing short of a re-establishment of the Cold War, events appear to signal a return to the days of nuclear weapons deterrence policies and the constant fear of some state player triggering World War 3.
As Agence France Presse (AFP) reported earlier in the week, the U.S. has plans to switch out over 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles in the next two decades, completely replacing the Minuteman III nuclear-tipped missiles now in secret silos across the U.S. with an as yet unnamed modern missile system. It is part of a refurbishing program of the military’s “nuclear triad (missiles, submarines, and bombs),” and its estimated cost is around $1 trillion, spent over the next 30 years.
“The Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans are upgrading all of their systems,” an Air Force official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP. He went on to say that since the other powers were “upgrading all of their legs of the triad,” he did not believe that “in that environment, I am not sure it makes sense” to do nothing.
The Minuteman III missile system has been in place since the 1960s (some of the missiles and silos since the 1950s). As another Air Force official noted, a number of the vendors who constructed and equipped the nuclear weapons silos have gone out of business over the years. Finding replacement parts have become extremely difficult, so some type of refurbishing operation was in order.
But the modernization of the nuclear weapons of the U.S. would not in itself prompt fears of World War 3 and a multinational war that could lead to a potential nuclear exchange. Proper maintenance of war ordnance is as much a nod to safety as it is to preparedness. The political rhetoric that followed did.
Speaking to a group of “missileers” — Air Force airmen who handle the operations of land-based nuclear weapons — at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated, according to the Daily Star, that Russia was as much a “loose cannon” threat to global security as North Korea with regard to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s emphasis on a resurgent Russia.
Carter said that NATO should not only “refresh their nuclear playbook” but also “plan and train like we would fight to deter Russia from thinking it can benefit from nuclear use in a conflict with NATO.”
Talk of a limited nuclear exchange in a constrained or localized war setting has become a point of acceptability of late, a tone that sparks fears in the hearts of those who would avoid World War 3 scenarios at all costs. With think tanks like the Atlantic Council, as reported by the Inquisitr, warning that Russia could invade and take over the Baltic States in a matter of days “with no warning,” fears that Russian military officials might resort to such nuclear tactics have proliferated. And then there was recently retired NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Breedlove, who warned the NATO nations, according to a separate Inquisitr report, that they were woefully unprepared for a concentrated Russian attack, that a sustained military offensive, coupled with Russia’s air and naval superiority, could potentially see Russia in control of helpless Europe with the Atlantic Ocean as a patrolled buffer zone to keep the U.S. and Canada from providing assistance.
Carter told the missileers, “It is a sobering fact that the most likely use of nuclear weapons today is not the massive ‘nuclear exchange’ of the classic Cold War-type, but rather the unwise resorting to smaller but still unprecedentedly terrible attacks, for example by Russia or North Korea. We cannot allow that to happen, which is why we’re working with our allies in both regions to innovate and operate in new ways that sustain deterrence and continue to preserve strategic stability.”
World War 3 sabre-rattling is nothing new between Russia and the United States, of course. The two superpowers have played the game of nuclear brinkmanship since shortly after 1949, when Russia detonated its first atomic bomb. Although the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Russia-dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics saw a lessening of tensions between the world’s two foremost nuclear superpowers, the rise of the Russian Federation under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has brought all the militarization and political posturing back into play.
And as AFP pointed out, Russia has already begun re-outfitting its nuclear triad.
The United States has apparently decided that continued Russian military aggression in various parts of Europe and the Middle East over the past few years has reached a point where nuclear weapons deterrence rhetoric must now become part of dealing with Russia — again. And so, too, must a commitment be made to the modernization of its nuclear defense capabilities. But a nuclear stand-off, at least to a great many, is a far better alternative to limited nuclear exchanges, or worse, the nearly assured destruction of the planet should World War 3 be waged with nuclear weapons.
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