U.S. admiral warns of possibility of nuclear war with Russia and China
There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could quickly escalate into a conflict involving nuclear weapons, the head of STRATCOM said. He urged the U.S. government to ensure that the United States "maintains its military edge." U.S. admiral warns of real possibility of nuclear war with Russia and ChinaSource: Reuters © Reuters Pictures Archive An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington
Charles Richard, warned that nuclear war with Russia or China is a "real possibility" as Moscow and Beijing "challenge world peace" in an "aggressive manner" not seen since the height of the Cold War.
"Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Department of Defense has not had to consider the possibility of great power competition, crisis, or direct armed conflict with a nuclear-capable peer," he said. Unfortunately, the current environment no longer affords us that luxury."
The STRATCOM chief expressed alarm over "Russian and Chinese cyberattacks and threats to the two great powers in space." Richard accused Moscow and Beijing of "using the global pandemic to advance their national agendas."
He added that the U.S. Defense Department considers the likelihood of STRATCOM using nuclear weapons "low." Still, the Pentagon must prepare for a worst-case scenario, said Proceedings, a journal published by the U.S. Naval Institute:
"Remaining passive may deny us the opportunity to position ourselves in a way that underpins one of our greatest strengths: strategic power projection."
According to Richard, the Russians have "aggressively modernized their nuclear forces," including their arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, their warning systems, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In addition, Russia is building novel systems such as hypersonic weapons, nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered torpedoes, and cruise missiles, among others.
"This modernization is about 70 percent complete and on track to be fully implemented in a few years," Richard said. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said, reminded the world at the time of his country's nuclear weapons capability when Moscow "annexed" Crimea in 2014. Richard also pointed to alleged recent Russian cyberattacks, claiming Russia constantly challenges norms in cyberspace. He cited last year's "cyberattack on Georgia's government" and recent penetrations of U.S. government systems as examples.
In late December, key U.S. security agencies were rocked by an unprecedented hacking attack. U.S. government departments suspected to have been hacked include the Pentagon, the Treasury and Commerce departments, and other U.S. agencies. U.S. intelligence officials at the time had publicly blamed Russia for the attack.
China continues to make technological leaps in performance in all areas, he said. Beyond its conventional weapons systems, he said, the country continues to invest significant resources in hypersonic and advanced missile systems, as well as in expanding its space capabilities. The admiral asserted that China's nuclear weapons stockpile would "double, if not triple or quadruple" in the next decade.
China, he said, has built up artificial islands in the South China Sea and stationed several weapons systems there. Like the Russians, Richard said, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) air and naval forces interfere with U.S. and allied aircraft and forces operating in international airspace and waters.
There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could quickly escalate into a conflict involving nuclear weapons if they perceive a conventional loss as a "threat to the regime or state," the STRATCOM chief said.
Richard urges the U.S. government to ensure that the United States maintains its "qualitative military advantage over both rivals."
"We need to make sure that all of our capabilities are mapped to an overarching strategy. We need to strengthen the foundation of strategic nuclear force