The U.S. and Russia can easily tell the difference between a conventionally armed cruise missile en route to a target and a nuclear armed one, former senior defense officials told a Senate panel on Wednesday.
John Hamre, deputy secretary of defense during President Bill Clinton's second term, and Franklin Miller, a special assistant on defense policy and arms control to President George W. Bush and a member of the National Security Council, told a Senate subcommittee that using a cruise missile for a conventional strike would not spur an adversary to go nuclear.
“The launch of a conventional weapon and the launch of a nuclear weapon occur in context,” Miller said. “So the launch of [U.S.] cruise missiles against Iraq or indeed the launch of Russian cruise missile against Syria did not raise any questions of nuclear use.”
“I do not think it’s a plausible argument that people will be confused about what we’re doing,” he said.
Last year, Russia fired sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles from to strike targets in Raqqa. A few months earlier, cruise missiles fired from Russian warships in the Caspian Sea veered off target and crashed in Iran, Agence France Presse reported at the time.
The former defense officials appeared Wednesday at a Senate Appropriations Committee panel to testify on the need to fund a new long-range stand-off cruise missile that would carry a nuclear warhead.
The two said the new weapon system would not violate the terms of any current arms treaty and is necessary to continue to deter any potential adversary from launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. or its allies.