In New Russia-Nuke Question, a Wrinkle Emerges

US tells allies that Putin might launch a dummy warhead into space to throw everybody off
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2024 1:45 PM CST
In New Russia-Nuke Question, a Wrinkle Emerges
Russian President Vladimir Putin.   (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

The US is pretty sure Russia is developing a nuclear weapon that could be deployed in space to take out satellites. Vladimir Putin, of course, denies it. Here's a look at coverage with more details on what's going on:

  • Soon? US intelligence agencies are warning allies that Russia might deploy such a weapon as early as this year, reports Bloomberg. The New York Times reports the same. The weapon would be "nested inside a satellite, capable of destroying swarms of commercial and military satellites circulating alongside it in low-earth orbit," per the Times.
  • A wrinkle: Both outlets raise another possibility—that Putin will launch a mock nuclear weapon, thereby making it all the more difficult to know how to respond.

  • Arms race: At the Conversation, Spenser A. Warren provides an in-depth look at how the weapon, assuming it is actually launched, would work (a wave of gamma radiation would undo the satellites) and the ramifications that would ensue. For one thing, it "could spark a new arms race." Also of note: Russia would destroy its own satellites as well should it detonate a nuke in space. Read it in full here.
  • For the record: Launching such a weapon would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits nations from placing nuclear weapons in space, notes Forbes. Russia has signed the pact, and merely launching the weapon would likely trigger economic sanctions.
  • Bigger question: If Russia actually uses it, then what? The Times reports that Putin may be banking on the idea that the "mutually assured destruction" doctrine would not apply in space—in other words, that "no one would risk a war over blowing up satellites, especially if there were no human casualties." The story adds the caveat on all of the above that US intelligence agencies are not confident in their assessments on what Putin is planning.
(More nuclear weapons stories.)

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