As It Happens

Arms expert calls Putin's nuke speech a 'very good Kim Jong-un impersonation'

In a speech on Thursday, the Russian president boasted about his destructive new nuclear weapons. Daryl Kimball says that kind of talk will end in a very real arms race.
Arms expert Daryl Kimball calls Putin's nuke speech a 'very good Kim Jong-un impersonation'. (Reuters )

Story transcript

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, made some bold statements about the country's new nuclear weapons on Thursday, in a speech that Daryl Kimball calls "irresponsible" and "disturbing". 

Speaking in a state-of-the-nation speech, Putin said the weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone and new hypersonic missile that he says renders the United State's missile defence "useless".

It marks a technological breakthrough that would dramatically increase Russia's military capability, boost the Kremlin's global position and raise Western concerns about a potential renewed arms race in the 21st century.

Kimball is the director of the Arms Control Association in Washington D.C. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about why countries need to work toward de-escalating nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia. Here is part of that conversation. 

In this video grab shows a Russian nuclear-powered underwater drone being released by a submarine. President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday that Russia has developed a range of new nuclear weapons, claiming they can't be intercepted by enemy. (RU-RTR Russian Television via Associated Press)

Mr. Kimball, President Putin put a chill down more than a few spines when he said during his speech, "This is not a bluff." Did it spook you?

We are in a nuclear age that has lasted 70 years. It is worrisome that the United States and Russia today have about 1,500 nuclear weapons. It is disturbing that President Putin is talking about acquiring, developing, testing, deploying more nuclear weapons capabilities.

So I think this is an irresponsible boasting session today and the United States and Russia need to get back to adult conversations to talk about how they reduce nuclear risk, reduce nuclear tensions and reduce the excess of arsenals that the two countries have.

You tweeted today that President Putin delivered a "Very good Kim Jong-un impersonation." What made him seem to be similar to the North Korean dictator?

Well like the North Koreans, President Putin today showed videos of some of the new capabilities that he was boasting about. Responsible nuclear arms states don't very flagrantly display their capability to wreak destruction on other countries.

Was it just escalating rhetoric that we heard from Mr. Putin today or is he suggesting that he's escalating the actual arms race? Can you explain what weapons he's talking about?

One system that he mentioned was a nuclear propelled cruise missile. A cruise missile that flies at lower altitude. It's manoeuvrable. It can evade missile interceptors. And so he boasted about this because he is, and Russia is, concerned about the potential of the United States to develop missile interceptors that could counter Russia's nuclear retaliatory capabilities.

The third thing that he mentioned — and I think this is one of the most disturbing things — a nuclear armed underwater drone that can travel long distance and travel at high speeds. They have not produced it or deployed it. But this is the kind of system that would hit a harbour.

This is a weapon system that would have catastrophic destructive potential. It would hit civilian populations.

Daryl Kimball is the Director of the Arms Control Association in Washington D.C. (Submitted by Arms Control Association )

We were supposed to be going in the other direction, weren't we? As the bulletin of atomic science tells us, we're closer to midnight aren't we, on the doomsday clock?

We're closer to midnight than we've have been in many, many years. One is there are more countries today that have nuclear weapons than during the Cold War years. And so that makes the situation much more complex. There are more nuclear flashpoints.

The other reason why nuclear risks, I think, are higher today is some of the agreements and the methods for reducing nuclear weapons arsenals and numbers are at risk.

The one treaty that does exist today between the States and Russia that limits their … long range systems, the New START treaty, is working but it will expire in three years unless the two presidents agree to extend it by another five.

If that treaty is allowed to expire on February 5, 2021 we would for the first since 1972 not have legal limits on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals.

A computer simulation shows the Avangard hypersonic vehicle manoeuvring to bypass missile defenses en route to target. (RU-RTR Russian Television via Associated Press)

Are we all supposed to just sit back and let these guys threaten each other and duke it out and perhaps get us even closer to midnight, or do other countries need to step in and say hold the phone?

That's an excellent point. I agree with you. I don't have high expectations for President Trump and President Putin right now given their rhetoric and their demeanour and I do think other countries will have to step forward with creative ideas about how to reduce these kinds of tensions. 

With files from the Associated Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


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