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A Taste of Things to Come

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Today, the Government of Russia has resigned, so President Putin will be appointing a new prime minister and cabinet shortly. Vedomosti, perhaps the most sober assessor of political news in the Moscow press, reports this morning that First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov will emerge as the new prime minister, and thus also the inside candidate to succeed Putin as president. In any event, the appointment of the new prime minister will mark the construction of the first span of the bridge to the post-Putin presidency—a significant and long-awaited event. As I noted in my recent speech in Tbilisi on emerging U.S.-Russian relations, there is a distinct chill in the air and the prospects for further deterioration in the relationship are numerous.

The world has had a roughly 15-year respite from the arms race that consumed so much of its resources for a period of two human generations following the events of 1939. Many have viewed the United States-Russian arms race as a relic of the past. But that may soon turn out to be wishful thinking. Those in the Kremlin who seek to restore the grandeur and power of the Russian state see arms technology as an essential aspect of this struggle. And while Russian technological strength has not been put to much effective use on the commercial side, its military aspect has always been impressive. So today’s announcement, carried on Reuters, of a new warhead should perhaps come as no shock:

Russia has tested the world’s most powerful vacuum bomb, which unleashes a destructive shockwave with the power of a nuclear blast, the military said on Tuesday, dubbing it the “father of all bombs.” The bomb is the latest in a series of new Russian weapons and policy moves as President Vladimir Putin tries to reassert Moscow’s role on the international stage.

“Test results of the new airborne weapon have shown that its efficiency and power is commensurate with a nuclear weapon,” Alexander Rukshin, Russian deputy armed forces chief of staff, told Russia’s state ORT First Channel television. The same report was later shown on the state-sponsored Vesti channel. “You will now see it in action, the bomb which has no match in the world is being tested at a military site.”

An arms race like the one that marked the first decades of my life is not yet underway, nor is it imminent. But the prospect of such a development sits before us, much clearer than at any time in the last decade. It is the product of human vanity and foolishness—the product of a thirst for prestige and power surmounting reason. And the blame for these developments lies at least as much in Washington, D.C., which has exercised no measure of self-restraint and has surrendered to calls for juvenile military adventurism, as has happened in the Kremlin.

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