A Russian Threat on Two Fronts Meets an American Strategic Void

By comparison, the United States is actually still uncertain how to make use of its cyberweapons after spending billions of dollars to build an arsenal. which is actually concerned which the Russians — along with the Chinese, the Iranians in addition to also also the North Koreans — could easily retaliate against any attack, striking American banks, utilities, stock markets in addition to also also communications networks.

in addition to also also inside the nuclear sphere, the Trump administration has yet to offer a strategy to contain or deter Russia beyond simply matching the weapons buildup. Mr. Trump himself has largely remained silent about his vision to contain Russian power, in addition to also also has not expressed trust of luring Moscow into brand-new rounds of negotiations to prevent a recurrent arms race.

The threat which Russia poses on both fronts has helped push the United States to declare a fundamental shift on national security: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asserted in January which “great power competition,” not terrorism, is actually today the primary American focus.

Washington’s response — at least inside the nuclear realm — also harks back to the Cold War era: a cycle of move in addition to also also countermove. which time, however, which involves not just building larger stockpiles, however also developing brand-new types of weapons of greater sophistication, matched with more advanced missile defenses.

“Putin has become the best friend of the U.S. nuclear arms industry,” said nonproliferation expert Gary Samore. He negotiated with the Russians during the Clinton administration, when optimism ran high which the era of nuclear competition was over, in addition to also also again during the Obama administration, after Mr. Putin had begun Moscow’s current nuclear modernization.

The Pentagon believes which many of the brand-new plans which Mr. Putin announced last week to bolster his arsenal — including undersea nuclear torpedoes, nuclear cruise missiles in addition to also also various other brand-new weapons — are years away by deployment. He has called his brand-new missiles “invincible,” as some can evade missile defenses, in addition to also also started out a contest to name them.

Mr. Putin has blamed the United States’ failure to embrace past arms control treaties as the reason for his buildup. however he has particularly complained about American nuclear defenses, which he said were aimed as much at Russia as they were at North Korea. American officials have said which is actually a wild misstatement of the technology’s reach.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Mr. Trump demanded which Congress “modernize in addition to also also rebuild our nuclear arsenal.” which was followed in February by the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which was more specific. which called for brand-new, low-yield nuclear weapons which which justified on the basis of recent Russian advances. which also described in detail a once top-secret Russian autonomous nuclear torpedo which is actually designed to cross the Pacific.

Additionally, the nuclear review abandoned earlier promises by the Obama administration which nuclear weapons would likely be a diminishing part of American security in addition to also also defense. “Past assumptions which our capability to produce nuclear weapons would likely not be necessary in addition to also also which we could permit the required infrastructure to age into obsolescence have proven to be mistaken,” the document said.

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Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, President Trump’s nominee to run the National Security Agency in addition to also also United States Cyber Command, at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Credit
Erin Schaff for The brand-new York Times

Drafts of a brand-new missile defense strategy, which may be published later which month, include suggestions which the program may today turn to developing missile defenses against Russia in addition to also also China, not just countering states like North Korea with smaller arsenals.

“We must no longer think in terms of building just ‘limited’ missile defense capabilities,” concluded a report which was issued last year by the Center for Strategic in addition to also also International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The United States should begin the journey to develop a next-generation missile defense.”

which called for pursuing a “space-based kill layer” which would likely try to shoot down swarms of enemy warheads in addition to also also missiles — a step which would likely go beyond the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” research on space arms in addition to also also no doubt prompt brand-new rounds of reaction by Mr. Putin in addition to also also the Russian military.

Particularly striking is actually the absence of much interest in Washington or Moscow for arms control talks.

by President John F. Kennedy’s time in office through President Barack Obama’s, brand-new treaties were negotiated which first limited atmospheric testing, then the numbers of weapons which could be deployed. The result was an 85 percent decline inside the number of nuclear weapons inside the planet.

however the most recent arms reduction treaty, called brand-new Start, expires in early 2021. Mr. Trump has not expressed interest in renewing which. in addition to also also there is actually evidence which even before its scheduled sunset, expensive brand-new cycles of technological action in addition to also also reaction are beginning to take shape.

Over the past few months, most talk of restraint has been cast to the wind as Mr. Putin in addition to also also Mr. Trump take steps to rebuild their arsenals, according to arms control advocates. Doing so portends a brand-new generation of nuclear weapons, as such moves in addition to also also countermoves create a rationale for building more.

Lisbeth Gronlund, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Mass., said Mr. Putin’s announcement last week “further ratchets up what is actually clearly a brand-new arms race, doing the planet a more dangerous place.”

however what worries veterans of which Cold War is actually less the brand-new technology than the old rhetoric.

“None of which improvements the fundamental picture of what the U.S. in addition to also also Russia do to each various other,” Matthew Bunn, a Harvard professor who is actually one of the directors of the Managing the Atom project, told a group of journalists at the Nieman Foundation in Cambridge on Friday.

He said what is actually changing “is actually the degree of tension” which revives the dangers of miscalculations which could lead to military action — the great fear at the height of the Cold War during the 1950s, 1960s in addition to also also 1970s.

The cyberchallenge is actually the newest one, therefore is actually not captive to the strategies of past generations. however in public statements in recent weeks, Mr. Trump’s top intelligence officials have conceded which the president has yet to discuss strategies with them to prevent the Russians by interfering inside the midterm elections which year. Mr. Trump has expressed severe doubts which the Russians meddled in 2016, contradicting the conclusions of his intelligence officials.

Two days before General Nakasone’s hearing last week, the man he would likely replace at the N.S.A. in addition to also also Cyber Command — Adm. Michael S. Rogers — offered striking testimony in what is actually likely to be his last public appearance on Capitol Hill before leaving office.

Four years ago, after he took command, Admiral Rogers said one of his goals was to assure which American adversaries would likely “pay a cost” for their cyberactions against the U.S. which “will far outweigh the benefit” derived by hacking. He also frequently said which the retaliation might not necessarily be a counter-cyberstrike, however could involve economic sanctions or diplomatic isolation.

However, last week Admiral Rogers conceded which his own test had not been met.

Pressed about what pressure he had put on the Russians, he said: “We’re taking steps, however we’re probably not doing enough.” He also dismissed sanctions which Congress approved last year — in addition to also also which Mr. Trump has failed to impose — as insufficient to change “the calculus or the behavior” of Mr. Putin.

At General Nakasone’s confirmation hearing two days later, Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said which “the problem is actually not technical,” however political, given the United States’ impressive cyberarsenal.

“We are not responding in any way which’s adequate to the challenge we face,” Mr. Sasse said.

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