Only New Nuclear Weapons Will Deter Russia From Striking American Forces, U.S. Military's Strategic Command Says

The United States needs new, low-yield nuclear weapons to deter Russia from striking the U.S. military with nuclear weapons during conventional warfare, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) told Congress during a hearing this week.

"That capability is a deterrence weapon to respond to the threat that Russia in particular is portraying," General John Hyten, the head of Stratcom, said on Tuesday. "[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin announced as far back as April of 2000 that the Russian doctrine will be to use a low-yield nuclear weapon on the battlefield in case of a conventional overmatch with an adversary," he continued.

Hyten also stressed that the U.S. needs a wide variety of low-yield weapons for its nuclear arsenal in order for the country's weapons stockpiles to constitute a sufficient deterrence. The Trump administration's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review recommends that the government build two new "low-yield" nuclear weapons for the U.S. Navy.

"While Russia initially followed America's lead and made similarly sharp reductions in its strategic nuclear forces, it retained large numbers of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Today, Russia is modernizing these weapons as well as its other strategic systems. Even more troubling has been Russia's adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success," the Nuclear Posture Review, released in February, stated.

A mockup of a Soviet AN-602 hydrogen bomb (Tsar Bomb) is displayed at the exhibition devoted to the 70th anniversary of Russias nuclear industry in Moscow on September 1, 2015. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

The congressional hearing shows that the U.S. military increasingly views Russia as a foe, despite President Donald Trump's professed desire to forge a better relationship with Moscow. Recently, American Special Forces began training in Alaska in order to prepare for a potential military confrontation with Russia in the Arctic region.

The comments also illustrate the belief held in some segments of the military in a strategy called "escalate to de-escalate," which calls for Washington to use the threat of its nuclear weapons to prevent a conflict that could ultimately end in nuclear war.

"Declassified Soviet and former Warsaw Pact documents indicate that the Soviets planned to use nuclear weapons first in a general war against the West. Today, Russian military doctrine reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in a conventional war," the U.S. Naval Institute warned recently.

Military analysts said that Russia has or is developing at least 11 platforms capable of launching low-yield nuclear weapons, and the U.S. should be prepared to respond if Russia chooses to use them. Putin recently announced that Russia has a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could reach the U.S. and evade any missile defense system.

It's unclear whether Russia really has these capabilities, but the announcement demonstrates that Russia wants the world to believe that it would be capable of striking the U.S. militarily.