US reviewing ability of Russia, China to survive nuclear strike

WASHINGTON • US intelligence agencies and the Pentagon's Strategic Command are working on a new evaluation of whether the Russian and Chinese leadership could survive a nuclear strike and keep operating, even as President Donald Trump seeks to reshape relations with both nations.

The study, ordered by Congress before Mr Trump took office, drew bipartisan support from members who harbour deep concern about China's increasing military boldness and distrust of Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions.

While Mr Trump has pledged to "greatly strengthen and expand" US nuclear capabilities, he also has predicted he can make deals with Mr Putin that might include reducing US sanctions in return for future cuts in nuclear arsenals. The two leaders talked by phone for about an hour on Saturday.

Under the little-noticed provision in this year's defence authorisation measure, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the US Strategic Command - which plans and would execute nuclear strikes - will evaluate the post-attack capabilities of the two nuclear powers.

The law mandates a report on Russian and Chinese "leadership survivability, command and control, and continuity of government programmes".

The review is to include "the location and description of above and underground facilities important to the political and military" leadership and which facilities various senior leaders "are expected to operate out of during crisis and wartime".

The Strategic Command is also directed to "provide a detailed description" for "how leadership survivability" and "command and control" in Russia and China are factored into the US' own nuclear war planning.

The directive was championed by Republican Representative Michael Turner of Ohio, a member of the House Armed Service Committee's Strategic Forces panel.

Representative Turner said in an e-mail that the US "must understand how China and Russia intend to fight a war and how their leadership will command and control a potential conflict. This knowledge is pivotal to our ability to deter the threat".

Nuclear leaders in Russia and China "plan to direct nuclear forces from inside command bunkers buried deeply beneath the earth or deeply inside mountains", said Dr Bruce Blair, a Princeton University research scholar on nuclear security policy and co-founder of Global Zero, a group devoted to eliminating nuclear weapons.

Mr Turner's statement implies that "deterring them requires US strategic cruise missiles that can manoeuvre around the mountains to strike the bunkers from any angle", Dr Blair said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'US reviewing ability of Russia, China to survive nuclear strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe