Vladimir Putin gave his country’s version of the State of the Union recently and he made news for his promises concerning America. For those that haven’t heard, America recently withdrew from the INF treaty leading to concerns about a new cold war and arms race. Putin’s speech accused America of being dishonest and lying when Trump said Russian weapons tests violated it. Putin also said that Russia would place hypersonic missiles and match any new deployments of missiles that America made. This had led to a good deal of hand-wringing from analysts and pundits suggesting that this is a new arms race before America even officially left the treaty. But this misses several key points.
Putin has been violating the treaty for years, and America’s withdrawal was really just allowing America to develop defensive weapons without one hand tied behind its back. This has additional implications in allowing the U.S. to develop missiles and defenses against missile threats from China, Iran, and North Korea.
Putin promising parity is something America shouldn’t be concerned about. Parity is a good thing in nuclear diplomacy. So Russia promising to counter any new deployments with missiles of their own suggests a period of somewhat uneasy deterrence that is still preferable to unchecked Russian development.
Finally, it’s important to remember that rhetoric doesn’t always match reality. Putin’s promises sound scary. But this remains in the realm of talking for now, and history is littered with super-weapons that promised the world but failed to deliver. If the media parsed and fact-checked Putin’s speech as much as they did President Trump’s tweets, they might find that Russia is ill-prepared for a sustained conflict or arms race. Their recent weapons systems like the T14 Armata tank and smart missiles have performed rather poorly in Syria. Their economy is smaller than America’s, and they suffer from significant personnel problems. But it’s far easier for analysts and pundits to quake at Russian threats and use them to attack Trump as a reckless idiot.