Putin’s phony arms race  

Vladimir Putin’s announcement “of a ‘breakthrough in developing new models of strategic weapons,’ designed to ensure that Russia’s nuclear forces can defeat any defense the U.S. now has or can build” doesn’t make any significant difference to the deterrence status quo that has existed between the two countries since the advent of nuclear weapons.

From Politico Magazine:

Consider the new missile that presumably can defeat all of our defenses: Russia now has, and has had for many decades, missiles that can readily defeat U.S. defenses. Russia does not have to attack the U.S. from the south to do so. We have always believed that Russian missiles have decoys that can defeat our defenses by saturating them, even if our defenses were to work as advertised. And if we were to build more and better defenses, Russia would then build more and better decoys, or for that matter, more warheads for the missiles they already have. Building more decoys or more warheads is always easier and cheaper than building bigger and better defenses to defeat them. Even if our defenses were to shoot down 80 percent of the warheads in a large-scale attack (a percentage that no experience and no test data support), 200 to 300 nuclear warheads detonating in the U.S. could hardly be considered a successful “defense.” That is what the Russians can do with their present arsenal — and we can do the same. That is what mutual deterrence is all about.

Consider the widely touted new Russian long-range nuclear robotic submarine, designed to totally destroy any of our port cities. Russia already has a multitude of systems that can do the same thing in a different way. And we can do the same to Russian cities without resorting to robotic submarines. So even if these systems are real, even if they can do everything Putin claims, even if they are already available — it doesn’t change the deterrence posture and it doesn’t give Russia any significant new capability.

Read the whole thing …

So, in practical terms, nothing has changed. A nuclear war between Russia and America would inevitably bring about the extinction of the human race.

Neither country would do anything to precipitate their own as well as their enemy’s destruction.

Nonetheless, should such destructive capability ever fall into the hands of ideological extremists, it could be a different story.

Australia weighs up the nuclear weapons option

From The Strategist:

Nuclear weapons and their role in Australia’s future defence are being openly debated by some key thinkers in Canberra. A recent ASPI Strategic Insights paper by Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith highlights a worsening security outlook and reduction in strategic warning for major-power threats. Hugh White’s latest Quarterly Essay, ‘Without America’, raises the prospect of the US ceding the Asia–Pacific to a rising China, and examines Australia’s defence policy options in this much more contested security future. White suggests that Australia may need to re-examine nuclear weapons as an option, and Dibb has called for a review of the process and the technological lead time to acquire such weapons. Finally, ASPI’s Andrew Davies has pointed out that the logical endpoint of the analysis conducted by Dibb and Brabin-Smith and White is an Australian nuclear weapons capability.

So the topic is very much on the table. That’s a sign of how bad things may get in coming years. But realistically, what would be the triggers for Australia taking such a step?

It’s not in Australia’s interests to get nuclear weapons if the US’s extended nuclear deterrence security guarantees remain strong. Despite Donald Trump’s suggestions on the campaign trail that Japan and South Korea should get nuclear weapons and look after themselves, there’s no sign that extended nuclear deterrence has weakened now that he’s in office. If anything, President Trump’s talk of unleashing ‘fire and fury’ against the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs reinforces concerns that he might rush to first use of nuclear weapons in coming months.

Yet Trump’s erratic approach to foreign policy contributes to a perception of US strategic decline. The marginalisation of the political centre, together with bitter partisan bickering, undermines Washington’s ability to make coherent policy. That in turn weakens its ability to fund defence modernisation and meet the growing challenges from China and Russia.