The prospect of a nuclear threat by a major eastern power was firmly relegated to the Cold War until earlier this week, when Russia announced a major nuclear exercise to be conducted later this month amid increasing tensions in Ukraine.
The surprise move was preceded by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ominous reminder last week that Russia is in possession of one of the world’s “most powerful” nuclear arsenals, which at the time such threats were common, included an autonomous nuclear launch system that may still be pointed west.
Perimeter, or “Dead Hand,” is a soviet nuclear first-strike deterrent reported by National Interest in June and recalled by Business Insider Thursday, which was designed as a last-resort weapon to fire all of the Soviet Union’s nuclear payload automatically at the Northern Hemisphere in the event all its leaders were killed in a nuclear exchange.
Upon activation, the system would seek to contact Soviet leadership to certify the death of anyone with the appropriate authority to launch a counter-strike. After that, the system would verify the country had suffered a nuclear attack by measuring radioactivity, light and pressure. Once the appropriate measures were confirmed, the autonomous computer system would launch all of the remaining missiles stored in silos throughout the USSR at the West and NATO.
“We’ve since asked the Russians if it’s still on,” The National Interest’s Tom Nichols wrote in June. “[A]nd they’ve assured us, with complete confidence, that we should mind our own business.”
Russia’s defense ministry said Wednesday the exercises set to take place in south-central Russia will include more than 4,000 soldiers, 400 technical units, spetsnaz special forces and an unprecedented level of air support. The announcement came one day before the launch of a NATO summit in Wales. (RELATED: Russia Announces Large-Scale Nuclear Exercises In Response To Ukraine)
“Russia is acutely aware of its conventional weakness,” Nichols wrote in the report. “[E]ven as they torment Ukraine right under NATO’s nose, the Russians know that they have no chance against NATO without nuclear weapons.”