Anti-nuclear weapons advocates urged caution after Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement about his military's new nuclear capabilities and his plans to put them to use in the event of an attack on Russia.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) stressed that the United States has contributed greatly to rising global tensions regarding nuclear proliferation, and touted the international treaty the group helped to negotiate to end the use of nuclear weapons worldwide.
"Putin's statement makes it clear we are in a new arms race that will put us under the terror of a new Cold War, in constant fear of death at any instant," Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, said in a statement. "While Russia and the U.S. compare the size of their arsenals, the rest of the world is joining a treaty that bans them."
More than 130 countries participated in negotiating the United Nations' Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last summer, after years of advocacy by ICAN and other anti-nuclear proliferation groups, and two-thirds of the world's nations voted in favor of its adoption. Fifty-six nations have signed the agreement so far, and the group is now urging other countries, including the world's nuclear powers, to back and ratify the treaty.
In his annual State of the Nation speech in Moscow, Putin showed video footage of newly developed weapons which he said could reach any target around the globe with practically no chance of interception.
"I believe it is my duty to say this: Any use of nuclear weapons of any yield—small, medium or whatever—against Russia or its allies will be regarded as a nuclear attack against our country," Putin said. "Retaliation will be instant, with all the ensuing consequences."
The Russian leader added that the Pentagon's recently-released Nuclear Posture Review should be regarded as a potential threat of a nuclear attack by the U.S.
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"Some of the provisions of the updated U.S. nuclear strategy review, which reduces the threshold for using nuclear weapons, trigger tremendous concern," He said. "It is written in such a way that it can be used in response to a conventional weapon strike or even in response to a cyberthreat...Everything is very clear and specific."
Theodore Postol, an MIT professor and critic of U.S. missile defense policy, noted that Putin is largely responding to continued U.S. threats and expansion of its arsenal.
"The U.S. is in the process of increasing the killing power of its nuclear ballistic missile forces against Russian ICBMs by a factor of three or more, and it is building missile defenses that suggest the U.S. believes it can strike Russia and and then defend against retaliation," Postol said. "It has issued a Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) that makes it clear that the U.S. could choose to use nuclear weapons first and at any time."
Putin's warning came as President Donald Trump has called for increased spending to modernize the United States' nuclear arsenal, and the Nuclear Posture Review indicated that it hopes to "expand the range of credible U.S. options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack."
Fihn called the new policy "a shift from one where the use of nuclear weapons is possible to one where the use of nuclear weapons is likely."