00:42 GMT19 May 2021
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    Russia says it has successfully tested a hypersonic missile, one of a range of nuclear-capable weapons announced by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. This comes after US General John Hyten said that US submarines can decimate Russia. Sputnik discussed this with Mark Gubrud, adjunct assistant professor at the University of North Carolina.

    Sputnik: What are your feelings about the STRATCOM Commander’s statement about the US ability to decimate Russia and China? And let's look at the timing of the statement…

    Mark Gubrud: It's been true for about 70 years that the US has had the ability to decimate Russia and China, so the question is: why say it now? The context, of course, was President Putin's statements to the [Russian legislature] about Russia's nuclear weapons. It was taken as a threatening message here in the US, and I think General Hyten was responding to that in making his statements this week. We're at a time when we need fewer threats and maybe more suggestions about what we can do cooperatively to move things forward.

    Sputnik: Mr. Hyten has also called Russia the only existential threat to the US, more rhetoric, would you say?

    Mark Gubrud: Yes, the nuclear weapons of the US, Russia, China and others pose an existential threat to the entire global civilization. It's not the only existential threat; climate disruptions, water shortages, pandemics… but war might be the hardest problem for us to solve because it represents divisions between us. So I don't think it's helpful to say that Russia is the threat, that Russia is determined to destroy the US, instead of Russia being another country that is trying to survive just as we are, it's the weapons and the conflicts that are the threat that we must overcome. It's important to remember that Russia can destroy the US, so we don't think that we can ever have a war and expect to emerge with a victory, we'll always have to settle our conflicts in some other way; otherwise, we will destroy each other — it's as simple as that. 

    READ MORE: 'They Couldn't Even Predict the USSR's Collapse': CIA's Top 5 Cold War Failures

    There's been a lot since 1991; the collapse of the Soviet Union was taken by the United States as its victory. We acted like we have won something instead of this disaster, and also created an opportunity for a new era of peace which, unfortunately, the US reaction was to say, "now we are the world's only superpower and we can go around do whatever we want," we didn't need to listen to Russia. So I think that US policy and behavior during that period is one of the reasons that President Putin came to power with the determination to rebuild Russia's military power and to be more assertive in using it. This sent a message and forced a reality check in the United States but it hasn't led to peace, it led to a resurgence of the arms race and to fears of a new Cold War. So I think it's easy to use words like crisis and crossroads, but the truth is: we're always at a crossroads, and we're always making choices for a better and more hopeful future or a darker and more dangerous one, and I think right now we need fewer threats and more ideas about how we can cooperate to build a better and safer world.

    Sputnik: How likely do you think Washington is to ever begin improving relations with Russia considering the emerging details and all the saber rattling?

    Mark Gubrud: How likely is that I don't know. Right now there's a vacuum of leadership in Washington DC which I don't see being filled anytime soon. President Trump does not have the authority to set new strategic directions for the US, but I think he can take some positive initiatives; we need to think about small steps, things we can do. I've suggested a test ban on hypersonic weapons as one initiative that would be highly verifiable, any side could initiate it. The US could initiate it and challenge Russia and China to join, Russia could initiate it and challenge the US and China to join, and that's a small step towards stopping this movement towards a new Cold War. 

    The nuclear arms race never really ended, we never really got rid of the weapons, we never really stopped, but it's been accelerating in the past years and this is very troubling, we have to choose to walk it back and go in a different direction. Russia has made a point to the US and China as well: the sole superpower nonsense just isn't going to fly. We have to restart the process of arms control — making binding commitments on all sides to avoid moving into a disastrous new arms race, taking the kinds of risks that we took during the Cold War which almost led to the end of civilization.

    Sputnik: Looking ahead, far ahead, it's always difficult to forecast anything, but in the immediate future, do you think that perhaps the situation could somehow develop on a more positive scale because the saber rattling could actually spill into something a lot more alarming, don't you think? Something can always push the situation over the edge. 

    Mark Gubrud: That's right, the situation has been poised at the edge intentionally for many decades, it remains too close to the edge. Pursuing a new arms race is going to lead us to do things that are going to make the situation more and more dangerous, as during the Cold War we set up a situation then where we would launch missile upon warning of an attack, we created a situation then where a false attack warning could lead to an accidental war; that situation persists even to this day. Why would you do something as dangerous as that, but that is the kind of thing that you do in an arms race, in a conflict and we can't let this resurgence of the arms race go any further, we have to start moving things back in a more positive direction. 

    This is something that goes back to… a little bit of history, in the early 2000's when President Putin was coming in and Russia was feeling pushed around by the US, there were some statements that were coming out of the Russian military about 'escalate to de-escalate', the early use of low-yield nuclear weapons to make a point. Russia has since walked that back, it's disappeared from the national doctrine and many-many statements indicate that that is not Russian policy and yet it slowly seeped in among nuclear circles in the United States. Nuclear hawks took on board the notion that Russia was planning to use nuclear weapons early in a conflict in order to try and scare the United States into standing down, that the US, therefore, had to have more low yield nuclear weapons to counter that.

    ATLANTIC OCEAN (August 31, 2016) An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) off the coast of Florida. The test launch was part of the U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Programs demonstration and shakedown operation certification process
    ATLANTIC OCEAN (August 31, 2016) An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) off the coast of Florida. The test launch was part of the U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Programs demonstration and shakedown operation certification process

    It wasn't until President Trump came in and couldn't find anybody with better credentials than the extreme right-wing in the US to make nuclear [weapons] policy… that they've been able to get some actual initiatives, like this low-yield Trident warhead. It's just a crazy idea because these Tridents have range, what's said, is that those are the things that we would use to decimate Russia on doomsday, so you don't want to use them in any other kind of situation than that. If Russia sees a missile coming up from the middle of the ocean and it looks like an American Trident missile, I don't think they're going to say, oh, that's just a low-yield one, don't worry about it. These are just crazy ideas which Russia flirted with back in around 2000 then walked away from them. Now they've been taken on by the Trump administration, with a lot of pushback from more sober people in the military. I don't think that this administration is going to set the direction for the future.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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