In the latest episode of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber rattling, Russia conducted the first test of its new giant intercontinental ballistic missile, which the West has code-named “Satan.”
This advanced missile, which Russia announced it had tested Wednesday, can reportedly carry up to 10 nuclear warheads at once or even a hypersonic vehicle that could maneuver at five times the speed of sound.
Putin, true to form, accompanied the missile test with a threat, stating that the missile will “provide food for thought for those who … try to threaten our country.”
But the story here is less about Putin’s reckless and escalatory behavior, and more about the how the Biden administration has handled it.
After the test, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stated that “Russia properly notified the United States under its … treaty obligations [of] a plan to test this ICBM,” adding that the test was “routine” and “not a threat.”
To be fair, it’s true that the test does not signify an imminent nuclear threat.
But the Pentagon spokesman’s reassuring comments about Putin’s missile test ironically come just weeks after the Biden administration canceled not one, but two missile tests of its own out of fear of irking Russia.
The administration first canceled a routine test of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile scheduled for March 3, just days after Putin initiated his brutal invasion and ordered his own nuclear forces to a level of “special combat readiness.” Then, instead of announcing a new date for that test, the Biden administration then canceled the next Minuteman III test on April 1.
If Russia can test a brand-new missile as it wages war on Ukraine and threatens the West and be labeled “routine” and “not a threat,” then why can’t the U.S. test its own missiles?
This isn’t just about posturing. The U.S. still relies on missiles that were built in the 1960s and needs to conduct tests to ensure that they will actually work if needed.
And unlike Russia, whose Satan missile can carry nuclear-armed hypersonic weapons, the U.S. is not building any new nuclear capabilities.
The administration justified the test cancellations based on the premise of avoiding escalating tensions with Russia, even though Russia clearly does not care to do the same.
But in reality, continuing to back off, rather than showing strength, as Russia rattles its nuclear saber, only sends the signal that Russia can go on without having to worry about the U.S.
Indeed, the Biden administration has not once reminded Russia that the U.S. is also a nuclear power and that any attack on the U.S. or NATO would provoke an immediate response.
Fortunately, NATO Deputy-General Secretary Mircea Geoana stepped up back in March, stating, “NATO is a defensive alliance, but also it’s a nuclear alliance.” So did French Foreign Minster Jean-Yves Le Drian, stating in February after Putin raised the alert status of his nuclear weapons, “Vladimir Putin must also understand that the Atlantic alliance is a nuclear alliance.”
President Joe Biden, the supposed leader of the free world, however, has only made remarks along the lines of desiring to avoid nuclear war with Russia and has canceled missile tests critical to ensuring the U.S. maintains a working nuclear deterrent.
Deterrence works by convincing the adversary that we are both willing and able to use our nuclear forces when necessary. Canceling tests while neglecting to even criticize Russia’s new and destabilizing missile only projects weakness to both our adversaries and our allies.
Instead of continuing to appease Putin’s Russia, the Biden administration must do more to demonstrate strength.
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