Video Above: Russia-Ukraine and the Prospect of Nuclear War
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has postponed a long-scheduled test firing of the existing Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile to send a strong, unambiguous message to Putin and the world that the United States will not engage in irresponsible escalatory and dangerous rhetoric related to the possible use of nuclear weapons.
The postponement was announced at the Pentagon in response to Putin’s recent move to put his nuclear forces on alert, something which many US and international leaders see as reckless and extremely dangerous.
Russia Nuclear Escalation
“Last weekend, as you saw, President Putin directed a special alert of Russian nuclear forces. The United States and other members of the international community rightly saw this as a dangerous and irresponsible, and as I've said before, an unnecessary step.
Both the United States and Russia have long agreed that nuclear employment could have devastating consequences, and we both agreed, most recently this year in the context of the P5 statement, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript.
Recommended for You
Austin’s move seems significant, given the significance and potential implications associated with Putin’s move, because test-firing or demonstrating the upgraded Minuteman IIIs have been an important element of the Pentagon’s deterrence strategy.
Although they have been upgraded repeatedly in many different respects for years, the Minuteman ICBMs are 1960s-era weapons impacted greatly by obsolescence issues.
This reality is a large part of why the Pentagon continues to fast-track its emerging Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBM program to add 400 new weapons to the US deterrence arsenal. Some Air Force and Pentagon leaders have expressed concern about a potential readiness “gap” coming in the late 2020s as the Minuteman IIIs truly phase out and the new GBSDs arrive.
This is why the Pentagon is making an extra effort to upgrade and sustain the aging Minuteman III ICBMs and regularly test fires them to ensure adversaries know the US has a capable ground-based nuclear deterrent despite the age of the Minuteman III.
Nevertheless, at a time when the world is arguably more dangerous than it has been in decades, Austin took a clear step to send a message to the world that the US is a “responsible nuclear power.” At the same time, Austin is being clear to emphasize that this postponement does not mean a lapse in nuclear readiness on the part of the US, as the US military services regularly test and improve the undersea, air and ground legs of its nuclear triad.
“We remain confident in our strategic posture, as we've said before, and our ability to defend the homeland and our allies and partners remains fully intact and ready. We recognize at this moment of tension how critical it is that both the United States and Russia bear in mind the risk of miscalculation, and take steps to reduce those risks,” Kirby said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.