Late last month, Russia brazenly released images of what is slated to become the newest weapon in its nuclear war chest, the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, nicknamed “Satan 2.”
The diabolic name is appropriate.
According to the Russian state news outlet Sputnik, the RS-28 Sarmat rocket “is capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France,” not a very reassuring thought for countries like Ukraine and Georgia, which have repeatedly irked the Kremlin with their insolent insistence on defending their national sovereignty.
Even more disturbing, the new thermonuclear missile (which will replace Russia’s almost-equally intimidating SS-18, or Satan 1, rolled out in 1974) will have a range of more than 11,000 kilometers and could carry a payload weighing as much 100 tons, allowing it to “destroy targets flying across both the North and South Poles,” the Russian state news agency TASS reported.
Russian sources said that Satan 2’s first stage engine PDU-99 was tested in August, while a hypersonic warhead was allegedly tested in April.
The new version of the Sarmat, designed with stealth technology, is expected to become operational by late next year.
Moscow has said that the new super nuke — which will contain 16 warheads and will be 2,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — is necessary “in order to create an assured and effective nuclear deterrent for Russia’s strategic forces.”
And while there is no plausible evidence that any country is currently plotting a furtive attack on Moscow — nuclear or otherwise — Russian President Vladimir Putin seems determined to flex his military muscles in a bold show of force by flaunting the Satan 2, perhaps in response to Moscow’s mounting discord with Europe and the United States over global issues such as Syria and Yemen.
The seething tensions between Russia and West are quickly heating up a new Cold War.
While the United States and Russia made significant strides in nuclear missile reductions following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 (cutting global arsenals by two-thirds), international pacts such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons do not prevent nuclear states from replacing or upgrading their arsenals.
Russia has officially claimed that the Satan 2 is nothing more than an upgrade of its current missile stockpiles.
Meanwhile, Washington has responded by saying that it plans to keep its Minuteman III ballistic missiles in service through 2030, with a series of military renovations.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there are currently 15,375 nuclear weapons in the world (which we know of), divided among nine nuclear powers.
The START set a total limit as to the number of warheads each of these nuclear states can own, but it did not specify how much more powerful replacement weapons can be.
So rather than adding missiles, it seems that the new approach to the East-West nuclear face-off is to increase their respective weapons’ killing power.
There is little chance that either the United States or Russia (which, collectively, control 93 percent of the world’s nuclear arms) are ever going to launch these so-called weapons of deterrence.
But there is a very real possibility that they could end up in the hands of less tempered governments.
Consequently, making ever-more-powerful nukes to intimidate one another is an act of flagrant irresponsibility on the part of both Moscow and Washington.
The mounting nuclear arms race is a dangerous recipe for disaster.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]