Joe Biden must publicise Russian nuclear threat to avoid ‘day zero’, says US lawmaker

The chairman of a powerful US House committee demanded on Thursday that the administration of Joe Biden publicise its intelligence on Russia’s ability to bring about global catastrophe.

Ohio Republican Mike Turner’s insistence came as nuclear tensions rise amid Russia’s threat to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine in its war there and while China rapidly expands its nuclear arsenal.

The call also coincided with reports that Moscow was developing an anti-satellite nuclear weapon, a point Turner considered especially alarming.

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“The administration is sleepwalking into an irreversible day zero,” Turner said in remarks at the Centre for International and Strategic Studies, a Washington think tank. “It would be catastrophic, economically, militarily, communication to society.”

US congressman Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio, chairs the US House Intelligence committee. Photo: EPA-EFE

Turner believed such a weapon deployed against US satellites would be calamitous for agriculture, medicine, commercial transactions, communications, maritime navigation and international security.

The Ohio congressman chairs the House Intelligence committee, which oversees America’s 17 intelligence agencies. Turner also sits on the House Armed Services committee.

Some news reports have suggested the Russian weapon is some ways off. Others have stated it already exists and is ready for launch, while still others have asserted it is in orbit and undergoing early testing.

“Without confirming or denying the accuracy of any of these reports, the questions they raise must be answered by the Biden administration immediately regardless of Russia’s timing or the possible immediate impact of this evolving threat,” said Turner.

“This crisis is the Cuban Missile Crisis in space and the administration is failing,” he added, referring to a 1962 diplomatic confrontation between the US and Soviet Union over the installation of missiles in the Caribbean country aimed at American cities.

On a visit to Vietnam, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Russia was considering possible changes to its nuclear doctrine.

Under its existing doctrine, Moscow is justified in using nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or a conventional attack that poses an existential threat to the state.

Putin’s stop in Vietnam followed a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The trip to Pyongyang marked the Russian president’s first to the northern Asian country in 24 years.

During the visit, the two nuclear powers announced a new “breakthrough” partnership to help each other out if either side were attacked.

“We do not rule out supplies of high-precision weapons to North Korea,” Putin told reporters, according to Tass, the state-owned Russian news agency. Moscow expected its cooperation with Pyongyang to be a deterrent, he added.

In recent years, authoritarian states and democracies have increasingly faced off.

The Biden administration has sought to build closer ties with US allies and partners to counter Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as well as Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and waters around Taiwan.

According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released on Monday, China’s 2023 nuclear stockpile surged to 500 nuclear warheads in January 2024 from 410 a year earlier – a faster rate of increase than any other country.

Beijing has so far balked at taking part in nuclear-arms control talks.

China may be able to deploy the same number of intercontinental ballistic missiles as the US and Russia by 2030, depending on how it shapes its arsenal, the report added. But its nuclear-warhead stockpile would remain smaller than either country’s.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week told reporters that China, North Korea and Iran were propping up Russia’s war in Ukraine. He said all three wanted to see the Western alliance fail.

A Ukrainian army mortar operator prepares to go on a mission in the Pokrovsk area of Donetsk on June 12, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo: AFP via Getty Images/TNS

“We are of course also concerned about the potential support that Russia provides to North Korea when it comes to supporting their missile and nuclear programmes,” Stoltenberg added during his recent visit to Washington.

Turner said Russia’s nuclear anti-satellite weapon, if detonated in low-Earth orbit, would indiscriminately decimate all satellites in that band and likely render the orbit unusable for at least a year.

“This threat would mean that our economic, international security and social systems come to a grinding halt,” he said. “This would be a catastrophic and devastating attack upon Western economic and democratic systems.”

“Vladimir Putin knows this. Checkmate.”

In addition to urging the Biden administration to disclose fully its intelligence on the Russian weapon, Turner called for Washington and its Nato allies to enforce the UN Outer Space Treaty.

Signed by Moscow and Washington in 1967, the treaty precludes the use of nuclear weapons in space.

“Day zero can be avoided,” Turner said.

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