Russias Mystery Missile
From the new york times i'm michael barr. This is the today the mysterious explosion of a russian missile has left an entire team of scientists dead david sankara on what that means games for an arms race between the united states and russia that both sides seem to walk. It's friday august sixteenth david. Tell me what happened last thursday in russia well if you're in moscow michael and you were watching t._v. All of a sudden your screen went blue and there was a big star that appeared on a blue background around there was wording up. They're basically telling people to take cover. It said you what union even shocking in a strong wind is expected. Take cover in a capitol building. Do not shelter or park under trees or rickety structures be be careful so this is a storm warning yeah. It's a storm warning. The oddity is there was no storm meanwhile. If you were up in northern russia up near the white sea this is the part of russia that sort of closest to finland and you were looking on the website of one of the local cities cities you saw an indication of a big surge a brief surge in the afternoon in radiation levels this this obviously what a lotta people be concerned and there were announcements and there was actually a rush to buy i a- dine because if you remember back to the old cold war days people used to stockpile iodine to keep their thyroid from absorbing radiation causing thyroid cancer then a few hours later that warning just disappeared from the city website so this is sounding kind mysterious it sounding kind of serious and really really ominous and all of a sudden there was pressure underway for either local officials officials or the russian government to begin to offer some answers about what was going on now what everybody knew new near this northern russian town was that there's a big missile test site nearby and the first explanation that the russians gave was does that there had been an accident with a liquid fueled missile. The problem with that explanation is most liquid fuel. Oh missiles don't produce any radiation <hes> so that didn't make sense and then another statement came out that said that actually what happened was is an explosion of an isotope power source for a liquid fueled rocket well that was the first admission by by the russian government that something involving a radiological event had taken place because isotope suggest radiation but of course the russians weren't coming clean about exactly what it was. They didn't say nuclear. They didn't say atomic. They didn't say accident. They simply said something went wrong with an isotope power supply and that really got people nervous yeah so what actually happened well as we try to piece it together. We got a picture of the russians testing an entirely a new kind of nuclear missile one that uses a small nuclear reactor to propel it and that in the course of the testing testing something went wrong with the nuclear reactor and over the course of a day or so we learned that seven people died the the reactor it actually exploded after it was recovered from the sea and that this had turned into a much larger disaster than the russians had ever publicly admitted but even i thought that russia and the u._s. don't test nuclear weapons haven't tested them for years. So how how do you explain that well. You're exactly right michael the u._s. In russia haven't tested any nuclear weapons for more than twenty years but understand what's happening happening here. You have to go back to twenty eighteen but she was a witness to the word in you know yet digital when vladimir putin gave his his state of the union address but he did this one with lots of animation had big screen behind him and he showed images of three new nuclear delivery systems that russia was developing. Maybe speech should premium down really was up son of autocorrect specials and when you watch the animation it was incredible and scary and maybe part fantasy but here's what he showed consume media missed field witnesses. During one of the weapons was an undersea autonomous it drawn basically imagine an autonomous torpedo with a nuclear weapon screwed into the nose cone comb and it was quickly dubbed the poseidon and the idea was that russia could have it cruising around in the the ocean and if there was ever a nuclear exchange and even if moscow was destroyed and all the nuclear commanders were knocked out out or killed this drone would have built in instructions to head to the west coast of the united states undersea where american missile defenses could never get at it so that was one that was the real doomsday machine was more than a steady get. The settlement is an educated novitiate but he really did the to the second one that you need cuddled kick. You just like polluters to renew your pretty serious to me was a missile that would move at mach mach five. That's five times the speed of sound and would never really manage to go very high up into outer space so so that the missile itself again would avoid missile defenses which usually are designed to find predictable ark for an incoming intercontinental title ballistic missile and destroy outer space and then the third missile over the kitchen corrosion qatari web she needs these points with three three unix was basically a cruise missile which nato called sky fall and ah yes before you ask me michael that is the title of a james bond movie but a cruise missile goes in a zigzag direction direction they can reverse itself it can go around mountains can hug will land and again it defeats missile defenses because the missile defenses can't even see see it in fact radar may not pick up cruise missile if it's down low enough but was really strange about this last missile was that it was supposed host to be powered by a small nuclear reactor the nuclear reactor at the back the missile meant that it could reach any corner of the world because a nuclear reactor actor can run four weeks months. Maybe even years so basically the fuel is limitless and the range of the missile was limitless the science fiction. You know what it's like. It's like doctor. After strangelove goodell nigger engineer olga the so is that the weapon that we think might have exploded on thursday night that third kinda a weapon that putin outlined during the speech in two thousand eighteen exactly and clearly david letterman putin is not trying to hide the fact that russia is working on these pretty stunning weapons. I mean in this speech. He's actively broadcasting to the world that he is is working on developing these oh he's not hiding thing. I mean quite the opposite. It really does show you what the nature of the new arms race is and how how it's different from what went before back in the sixties and seventies the americans and the russians would try to hide their developments from each other eventually of course some of them came out but what putin wanted to do was announced to the public. We're back and in fact remember. He announced this in two thousand eighteen just before a major ager russian election and he was basically saying you know we are going to restore the power of the old soviet union. You respected the old soviet the union because it had nuclear weapons and now having revised conventional military putin saying i'm reviving our nuclear force and finding a way to evade all of those anti missile systems at the americans have spent three hundred billion dollars building over the past thirty years so how does the united states react to that disclosure of these new weapons plans by russia are longtime adversary well. The reactions were mixed michael. There was obviously a group. It was pretty freaked out because you know not a whole lot has changed nuclear technology since the fall of the berlin wall all and suddenly here with the russians announcing a whole new set of weapons then there was a group saying in good luck with that reactor thing from then there was a third group that was actually pretty gleeful about the entire thing gleeful gleeful michael because there's a group inside the pentagon certainly among many conservatives in the arms world who believe the united states has underinvested in its nuclear weapons over the past ten to fifteen years and here all the sudden was the justification for what they've long argued for which is a renewal of the american can nuclear arsenal so they actually see this some of them in the united states as an opportunity to do something that they've wanted to do for a long time but but have felt that they couldn't michael there are two arguments for building up a nuclear arsenal one. Is you go to congress and you say his new technology around. We should really do this that may not convince very many people and certainly isn't going to convince many of the democrats the other way to go at it is is to say we're falling behind and if we don't invest to were really going to find that we've got an old system that can't defend end against a new class of nuclear weapons and with putin speech they have what looks like a very legitimate argument that the u._s. could be falling behind absolutely and that's the argument that was working buried in that more than seven hundred billion dollar defense budget that president trump is push pushed through is a lot of new money for new nuclear weapons hypersonic missiles all kinds of weaponry that many the in the pentagon and many defense contractors have been dreaming about for a decade or two but now they're getting to experiment with <music> <music> <music>. Uh at delta we fly to three hundred cities around the world. That's three hundred city. City is where everyone does the same things you do. That's three hundred cities where the people in those three hundred cities think. They're the only ones who know about that. One place three hundred cities where people miss someone in one other two hundred nine thousand nine hundred eighty three hundred cities where people sing in the car or in the shower or both poorly delta isn't flying three hundred cities merely to bring us together but to show us. We're not that far apart in the first place. Delta keep climbing. I'm john pappas. I'm the director of this week's episode episode of the weekly a new t._v. Show from the new york times this week's episode looks at the opioid crisis told from the perspective of berry meyer veteran new york times reporter. He got this confidential document from the justice department what berry discovered when he got this document. Was that the executives at purdue pharma. The company company that makes oxycontin could've face prison time but they didn't because prosecutors essentially cut a deal it was a joke when a company saying i committed a felony the only act by lying to doctors about the abuse potential and people are dying because of my lies there is no justification for which shouldn't prosecute those individuals none so if you want to hear a story about the opioid crisis that you haven't heard before check out this week's episode of of the weekly it's on sunday night on facts and streaming on hulu the next day with this david you're describing two adversaries who are seeing opportunities to build up their nuclear program but my sense is that both countries operate under this massive massive structure of nuclear trees that mean that neither can do any of the things that you're describing so how does that work well michael the treaties that were signed over the course of decades between russia and the united states have begun fritter away some of expired president president trump since he came in made it clear he wanted to get out of at least one intermediate nuclear forces treaty you have to have everybody adhere to it and you have a certain side that almost pretend that doesn't exist which he said the russians were violating and they were we can't be put at the disadvantage of going going by a treaty limiting what we do when somebody else doesn't go by that treaty and that happened just a few weeks ago. The united states taking a stand hand against russia with the u._s. Ended it. The u._s. is pulling out of a decades long nuclear treaty with russia sparking fears of a new arms race. We thought was confined. Find to the cold war and now there's a question about whether the one remaining treaty between the united states and russia's called new start and and which limits the number of intercontinental nuclear weapons leave and be renewed when it expires in february twenty twenty one just a month after the next presidential actual inauguration so this whole structure that's been built up over the past twenty or thirty years to limit both sides and what they can build that is all crumbling and meanwhile new technologies are coming up with new kinds of weapons that aren't even covered by the treaties anyway and that's exactly ackley what both putin and president trump or experimenting with david from everything you're saying both the u._s. and russia are simultaneously casting costing off this history of denuclearization treaties that limited the size of our arsenals and we're focused on having less not more so why are we both seeming to reverse course here. Let's exactly right because the old thing was that these nuclear arms limitation treaties treaties actually created security by reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. The new thing is that these treaties are actually constraining the united states and russia from adopting new technologies each one of them watts <hes> putin wants them because he wants to avoid american missile defenses and he thinks his old old weapons won't do that. Donald trump wants them because he believes that there are a whole new group of nuclear actors coming in led by china and he he doesn't want to be limited by his old outdated treaties with russia that prohibited from building weapons that might counter new competitors so without anyone really announcing it the u._s. has entered a new nuclear arms race primarily with russia but also with china and and a host of other growing nuclear powers that's exactly right but it's different than the old arms race. The old arms race was mostly about sheer numbers numbers. It was about overwhelming the enemy. The new arms race is all about high technology but david this russian test on thursday night over the white see it sounds like a spectacular failure for putin and for russia so what does that mean for the state of the nuclear arms race between the u._s. and russia. It's a really good question michael because we really don't know in one way to think about it is that the russians aren't succeeding at their grandiose dreams and everybody can breathe a sigh of relief and we can slow down on this arms race i. I don't think that's where the trump administration is going to come out. I think that what you're already beginning to here. Is this public embarrassment. The explosion that killed the scientists and leaked out is only going to drive president putin to invest more and even if his his dreams of a nuclear propelled missile fail he will find other ways to come up with weapons that evade american defenses and that have new ways of reaching the u._s. just to establish did he's a power to be reckoned with and so if anything i think this this sky fall incident could end up speeding up the arms race on both sides the russians will want to show that they're not going to be defeated that they're they're gonna pick themselves up and build something better and the americans are going to say see the russians are experimenting with all this new technology even if they fail getting the chinese will get there so we better speed up to <hes> to both sides have real incentives to be in his arms race to stay in this the arms race and would look and feel like major setbacks aren't really setbacks at all. They just keep everybody invested in the arms race. I i think that's right now. If you listen to president trump and sometimes if you listened to president putin why you here is you know this. This is a reason that we need a whole new type of comprehensive arms control and president trump is said even in the past few weeks. I want new agreements that encompass all nuclear weapons intercontinental intermediate range these new technologies and i wanna wrap it all altogether and putin various moments is indicated. He might be interested in doing the same thing but the fact the matter is we are nearly three three years into the trump administration and they have not sat down once over negotiating a new arms control regime so it's hard imagine between now and the american presidential election that donald trump is going to try to sit down and work out with putin an entirely a new arms control agreement and frankly given what's in the air about the odd relationship between president trump and putin. I'm not sure that you could even get. It's such a treaty through even if they negotiated one. It sounds like there's a greater likelihood of both countries ramping up nuclear arsenals else than there is of both countries sitting down and signing a nuclear treaty and i wonder if that means we're going to be seeing more incidents -tendance like what just happened in northern russia with this exploding this all i think that's entirely possible michael that the history the <hes> of nuclear arms races is that if both sides aren't talking to each other than each side builds up in part so that they have them and and in part so they have something to trade away if they do get into a negotiation and that may be exactly what's going on here of course at a moment when we're seeing nuclear clear proliferation that we're worrying about around the world that the north koreans are building up their nuclear arsenal the iranians building up their nuclear arsenal. It doesn't set a really great example example to have the two largest nuclear powers to countries that together have more than ninety percent of all the nuclear weapons in the world build build even more and of course that could mean more russian community is suddenly exposed to radiation spikes and government attempts to hide that so i wonder how people in russia are feeling in the days since this accident or michael. We've been trying to figure it out. To of course the russians aren't exactly eager to let western reporters into some of these towns but from what we can pick up people are anxious. They're angry and they feel lied to. There's a reason they should feel you lied to because the russian government to this day has not said this was a missile test involving a nuclear reactor that went wrong than sort of laid all the little elements out. There're not put it all together and for russians who really wanted to try to get an understanding of what went on they had to be reading western news reports and you know this is sort of created a post traumatic stress syndrome for russians who remember this from their past there were past accidents missile missile accidents and of course nuclear accidents up to and including chernobyl which was on a far larger scale than what we're seeing in recent days where the government lied to people and they were exposed and of course many thousands died so there is a sort of the old cold war is back and so are the anxieties that came with it speaking of distrust whatever ever happened to that emergency weather report that played across so many television screens on the night of this accident did the government ever acknowledge acknowledge what that was you know michael. We still don't know i mean they said it was a malfunction but i'm not sure any russians really believed up even if they're right even if it wasn't malfunction even the weather report was really about the weather and not about a nuclear accident and it tells you something about the depth of distrust in russia and around the world for governments say about their nuclear tests and their nuclear arsenals. Thank you thank you in order back at delta. We fly to three hundred cities. That's three hundred cities where people singing in the car poorly three hundred cities where people miss someone in one of our other two hundred ninety nine cities. We don't fly to three hundred cities merely to bring us together but to show us. We're not that far apart delta. Keep climbing <music> yours what else you need. 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