Pentagon: Russia ‘Playing With Fire’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

Russia is “playing with fire” with its nuclear saber-rattling and the United States is determined to prevent it from gaining a significant military advantage through violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the deputy U.S. defense chief said on Thursday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, speaking to lawmakers in the House of Representatives, also said modernizing and maintaining U.S. nuclear forces in the coming years would consume up to seven percent of the defense budget, up from the current third to four percent, and could squeeze other programs unless additional funding was approved.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Work said Moscow’s effort to use its nuclear forces to intimidate its neighbors had failed, actually bringing NATO allies closer. He also criticized what he called Russia’s “escalate to de-escalate” strategy.

“Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire,” Work said. “Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

The United States is about to embark on a costly long-term effort to modernize its aging nuclear force, including weapons, submarines, bombers and ballistic missiles. Estimates of the cost have ranged from $355 billion over a decade to about $1 trillion over 30 years.