Don’t buy Putin’s missile hype

Putin’s new weapons include a nuclear-tipped cruise missile with an engine powered by a nuclear reactor and thus have unlimited range. A computer-generated video, displayed on large screens behind his podium, showed such a missile zipping across the Atlantic Ocean, circling South America, then sneaking up the Pacific Coast toward U.S. territory—all the while flying at sea-skimming altitudes and evading missile-defense radar.

This sounds like a very expensive weapon—and not a very potent one either, as the weight of an onboard nuclear reactor would only leave room for a pretty small nuclear warhead. If Russia wants to muddle our defenses, a smarter, cheaper way would be simply to launch two or three regular cruise missiles at each target. It is well-known that no missile-defense system has been tested against more than one incoming target at a time. To the extent this is a problem for us, we have been living with it since the dawn of the nuclear era. The solution we’ve adopted, however uneasily, is to maintain the ability to respond to such an attack with enough force that a foe is deterred from attacking in the first place. Nothing in Putin’s overheated speech changes that.

Some of the media have fallen for Putin’s hype.