Is the sky falling? Apparently not quite yet – but that’s not thanks to the U.S. Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump. As the Russian government continued to slowly drip-feed the general public bits and pieces of information concerning the mysterious explosion that took place on August 8 at the Nyonoksa military range in the Russian Arctic, Trump felt compelled to post the following comment on his personal Twitter account on Monday:
“The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia. We have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian “Skyfall” explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”
Trump’s statement that the U.S. possesses technology similar to what NATO has dubbed the SSC-X-9 Skyfall – which is assumed to be a nuclear powered (and nuclear armed) cruise missile Russia is attempting to develop – raised a good number of eyebrows, both among laypeople and national security experts. Professor Tom Nichols of the U.S. Naval War College promptly quote-tweeted Donald Trump’s claim and commented: “No, we don’t, and yet again the CINC [Commander-in-Chief] has no idea what he’s talking about.” Likewise, Joe Cirincione, president of the anti-nuclear weapons group the Ploughshares Fund, stated: “This is bizarre. We do not have a nuclear-powered cruise missile program. We tried to build one, in the 1960’s, but it was too crazy, too unworkable, too cruel even for those nuclear nuts Cold War years.”
The good news is that the Russian Federation does not have a working prototype of a cruise missile powered by a small nuclear reactor, either, as evidenced by last week’s accident. According to NBC News, Cheryl Rofer, a retired chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory – the birthplace of the atomic bomb in New Mexico – believes Putin will never succeed: “There are basic and fundamental engineering considerations that suggest that a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a very small power source will be very difficult or impossible to build.”
All in all, the bottom line appears to be that what we just witnessed was essentially a “rocket measuring contest” between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and they were both shooting blanks. However, this is a serious situation because Russia takes the issue of missile defense very seriously and is going to great lengths trying not to let the U.S. gain an advantage. With his uninformed throwaway comment, Trump may have just given Putin a justification for further reviving the nuclear arms race between Russia and the United States which had more or less been dormant since the end of the Cold War – perhaps making the world a little less safe in general.