Mar 2, 2022 - World

U.S. cancels ballistic missile test to avoid escalating Russia tensions

Lloyd Austin

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made the decision to cancel a ballistic missile test scheduled for this week "to demonstrate we are a responsible nuclear power," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: Russian President Vladimir Putin has heightened the readiness posture of Russia's nuclear deterrent forces during his invasion of Ukraine, after warning last week that any country that interfered in the operation would face "such consequences that you have never encountered in your history."

What they're saying: "In an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention of engaging in any actions that could be misunderstood or misconstrued, the Secretary of Defense has directed our Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch, scheduled for this week, to be postponed," Kirby said.

  • "We did not take this decision lightly, but instead to demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power," he continued.
  • "This is not a step backwards in our readiness, nor does it imply that we will necessarily cancel other routine activities to ensure a credible nuclear capability. We remain confident in our strategic posture."

The big picture: As recently as Jan. 3, Russia joined the U.S., China, France and the U.K. in affirming in a joint statement "that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."

  • Western officials have condemned Putin's "irresponsible" decision, which came after a flood of new sanctions and announcements of military aid to Ukraine, but few have signaled that they believe he is serious.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday: "We will always do what is needed to protect and defend our allies, but we don’t think there is any need now to change the alert levels of NATO’s nuclear forces."

Worth noting: Sweden's Armed Forces said Wednesday that four Russian jets violated Swedish airspace, the same day that Sweden and Finland were set to host joint military drills.

  • "In light of the current situation, we take the incident very seriously," Sweden's air force chief said. "It is an unprofessional and irresponsible action on the part of Russia."
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