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Report: Russia Continues to Use Nuclear Threats to Intimidate Neighbors

RT-2PM Topol

Nuclear escalation — tactical and strategic — is something Russians can use to cow their neighbors to get their way is real, but what may happen after using those weapons remains a deterrent to putting that doctrine into play, the co-author of a new report on Washington-Moscow conflict told USNI News last week.

While the fundamental strategic balance between the two countries remains in place, there have been changes over the years in how each views the others and what either will do to protect itself, Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security, said Friday.

For example, Moscow’s placement of cruise missiles close to its western borders does violate the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Fontaine said. The Russians claim that the placement of Aegis Ashore in Poland and Romania to deter missile attacks from Iran on NATO countries likewise broke the 1987 agreement.

As the nuclear relationship stands now between the United States and Russia, Fontaine does not see a push to build a large missile defense system to counter Russian missiles. Aegis Ashore systems already in place and planned in the near future are stated to meet threats from North Korea and Iran.

The danger of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and Russia, “remains, thankfully, very low.”

Nevertheless, time to react to a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear or conventional weapon remains a constraint, and could force leaders into a decision “to use or lose,” the report notes. Fontaine said CNAS plans a follow-on report dealing with the issues involving conventionally armed missiles.

Political leaders in Washington, Moscow and Beijing still focus on mutual assured destruction when it comes to thinking about deterring a ballistic missile barrage from the United States, Russia or China.

The future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines appear to be the most survivable deterrent in the nation’s nuclear arsenal into the future, Fontaine said. It is part of a “needle in the haystack” defense, the report says. The Russian approach in that area is to place ICBMs on mobile launchers.

When asked about unmanned autonomous airborne or underwater systems changing the nuclear equation, which both countries are investing in, Fontaine said it was too early to tell.

An undated artist’s rendering of the planned Columbia-class submarine. Naval Sea Systems Command Image

However, unmanned underwater systems could make “anti-submarine warfare very different” from how it is envisioned today.

The report examines in detail the increasing challenges faced in the cyber and space domains where the greatest future challenges to stability lay.

Splitting Cyber Command from the National Security Agency makes sense “because the missions are fundamentally different” and they can be “organized to maximum advantage.” As a separate entity, Cyber Command “can work with the rest of the military in developing” offensive and defensive capabilities. At the same time, NSA can work more closely with the private sector on its defenses and learn of its capabilities.

“That would be the upside of the split.”

The idea of a Space Corps, which has surfaced in Congress as a possible sixth uniformed service, “is an intriguing idea.” The idea is beef up security because the United States is so dependent on space assets — global positioning satellites, as one example — not only for military operations but daily life in the view of its Capitol Hill supporters and in the defense establishment. The proposal during this congressional session and pushed by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) actually resurfaced a recommendation from a commission chaired by Donald Rumsfeld in 2000 before he again served as Defense secretary.

But as is the case with persons with cyber skills, Fontaine said how would the government recruit and retain this force: Would they have different entry points for service, be drawn from businesses such as Space X, possibly serve as a reserve component? “How are you going to do that? What’s the model?”

The military’s push for resiliency in the wake of potential cyber and space attacks — even down to re-teaching compass use in land navigation and reading a sextant at sea — makes sense when satellites “go dark for 24 hours and you have no access to satellite data,” but realistically individuals still depend on this [kind of space] technology” for a range of activities.

  • NavySubNuke

    “Splitting Cyber Command from the National Security Agency makes sense “because the missions are fundamentally different” and they can be “organized to maximum advantage.”
    — Yikes – in order to make a statement like that you either have no idea what you are talking about or you have a very different definition of “fundamental” than I do. Considering that he then carries on with a definition of NSA that has absolutely to do with their fundamental zero role in signals intelligence I think it is fair to say he has no real idea what he is talking about.
    There is no real benefit to splitting NSA and cybercom apart – they are a pair of twins conjoined twins sharing the same heart. If you try to rip them apart you are going to do great damage to the effectiveness of both and consequently to the national security of this country. Coordinating cyber operations between them is difficult enough with them conjoined – ripping them apart is going to make it impossible to effectively do so.

  • 1911,M4,M4a1,M16=obsoletepos

    The illegitimate president will just bend over to Putin’s demands, per usual.

    • Tony

      You must have missed the 8 Obama years. Obama was the one who did not want to upset the Russians by proceeding with European missile defense. And it was Obama who told the Russian Foreign Minister to convey to Putin that he, Obama, would have more flexibility (to bend over) after the 2012 election. You should probably pay more attention to current events.

      • 1911,M4,M4a1,M16=obsoletepos

        Wrong. It was the GOP who bent over to Russia by cutting funding for overseas bases. The talks with Mendeleev were not a binding resolution and has no basis when an agreement is not signed between nations.

    • David Oldham


    • sferrin

      Voted in fair and square. Watch when he does it again in 2020.

      • 1911,M4,M4a1,M16=obsoletepos

        Wrong the orange traitor is an Illegitimate president installed by a foreign power. Nope. the traitor will be impeached before than and you albino chimps will cry about it.

    • muzzleloader

      Illegitimate President? Jeez, what now the Huffington Post is invading USNI?

      • 1911,M4,M4a1,M16=obsoletepos

        Anyone who doesn’t realize that he is illegitimate is an accomplice.

  • Jamie9260

    Why is everything Russia does is bad? hmmm…what other county meddles in everyone’s affairs invades other country’s on B.S lies spends 650 billion plus on their military budget and yet it is still not enough it would seem like the U.S is scared [email protected]$LESS of Russia but they are not on our boarder we on there’s ?

    • David Oldham


      • Jamie9260

        So if I disagree with a article I am a troll?… I guess the good old days of just disagreeing with someone are over? now we must call them names for disagreeing with the official narrative!

        • El Kabong


          You aren’t merely disagreeing.

          You’re displaying classic FSB troll tactics.
          Mindless spew, from a brainless drone.

      • Curtis Conway

        Has no idea what the Unified Combat Commanders job is in his/her respective AORs or how they accomplish their job. Leave him be. Better to let them wallow in their ignorance.

    • Secundius

      Ohhh, let’s see?/! Vladimir Putin though his Ambassador Mikhail Vanin to Denmark in 22 March 2015. A hand written letter to Denmark’s Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard with “Nuclear Annihilation” IF Denmark were to Sign Aboard with the BMD Treaty within NATO. AND to Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Sweden respectively IF those Countries did the Same Thing. THEY DID…

    • El Kabong

      The truth hurst, doesn’t it comrade?

      Talk to ANY ex-Warsaw Pact member.
      What about your pal’s invasion of Afghanistan?
      The Hungarian uprising?
      The Czechoslovakian uprising?
      Southern Africa.
      The Middle East.

      I can keep SCHOOLING you all day long…

  • David Oldham

    Fact check needed

  • RTColorado

    Concern that there is “little reaction time” to a nuclear armed cruise missile attack is a false argument. The notion that the US or Great Britain or France would not retaliate against a nuclear attack by Russia whether it was by surprise or not is the key question. If the US wasn’t willing to retaliate against a nuclear attack, the timing or method isn’t relevant. If timing were relevant, the longer the US has to think about it, the less likely they would be to launch a nuclear strike. Nuclear Arms treaties are meaningless in that the major powers have too much invested to risk it and the minor powers have aspirations of obtaining the same status. Non-Proliferation treaties have for the most part failed, so there little sense in getting overly excited by their status. It still boils down to what is a country willing to risk and how much will the major powers tolerate…it’s that simple.

  • John Dapper

    Russia needs to recognize many countries didn’t view Soviet soldiers as liberators because it didn’t happen. Nazis were replaced with Soviet style dictators. If Russia would stop being belligerent, go from a threatening neighbor to helpful neighbor and quit stopping energy shipment, in time would have more influence than the US, Nato or Europe.

    Someone needs to tell Putin – you get more flys with honey than vinegar.

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    Is anybody really dimwitted enough to believe that those Aegis sites are to “defend” Europe from Iran (and now, oh so conveniently, “DPRK”)?

    • El Kabong

      Okay kid, what EXACTLY are they for?

      • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

        To cover (and add to) a US first strike against Russia.

        • El Kabong


          How EXACTLY does a BMD system “cover” for a first strike?

          How do ABM systems “add to” a strike?

          This is hilarious!

          • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

            Interdicting the retaliatory strike and launching cruise missiles. The Russians are fully aware of all this.

            Go back to watching football and reading comic books.

          • El Kabong


            Silly boy.

            You clearly know SFA about modern warfare.

  • omegatalon

    Intimidation by Russia is what Donald Trump is counting on and will use as leverage against the European Union because if they’re not willing to play ball with the United States, Trump can begin talks of withdrawing the United States from NATO which will mean Russia can conquer the continent in a heartbeat.

  • gringott

    That goddam Russia keeps putting it’s country next to our NATO bases.