The U.S. general who oversees America’s nuclear forces expressed concern Tuesday that Russia is developing new strategic weapons outside of the New START Treaty, which is set to expire in 2021.
The comments by Air Force Gen. John Hyten come in the wake of the United States’ and Russia’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, freeing Moscow to develop and deploy new missiles, and fueling fears the 2010 New START Treaty may be next to lapse, with nothing to replace it.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the head of U.S. Strategic Command said Russia is developing a nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered underwater unmanned vehicle, an intercontinental-range cruise missile, and a hypersonic nuclear weapon, which Moscow wants to keep out of existing arms agreements.
Such weapons could pose a threat in the near future if the U.S. does not address them, Hyten warned.
“I get concerned 10 years and beyond that with torpedoes, with cruise missiles, with hypersonic, that it can go completely in the other direction, that we would have a difficulty,” Hyten said. “I have no problem saying I can defend the nation today, and I think the commander after me can, but I worry about the commander after the commander after the commander.”
Hyten said he wants to expand New START to include Russia’s capabilities and emphasized the value of the treaty’s verification process. The treaty allows the U.S. inspect and gain insight into the real capability of Russia’s strategic arsenal — and vice versa.
Yet, in an exchange with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren — a 2020 presidential contender and proponent of nuclear restraint — Hyten seemed to leave an opening to justify New START’s termination.
“I’ve stated for the record in the part — and I haven’t changed my opinion — that I support New START, but you have to have a partner who wants to participate,” he said, likening it to the INF Treaty.