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As Vatican urges disarmament, Russia eyes space weapon

New Russian space-based nuclear weapon could knock out America’s satellite network

Published: February 27, 2024   
OSV News photo/Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to journalist Pavel Zarubin in Moscow Feb. 14.

The United States has new intelligence about new Russian capabilities concerning a space-based nuclear weapon that could threaten the U.S. satellite network, according to multiple reports.

The development underscores the greater urgency that the Vatican and Catholic prelates have given to warning of the need for global nuclear disarmament.

The New York Times reported Feb. 14 the U.S. government has informed Congress and its allies in Europe that Russia has made advances on a new, space-based nuclear weapon designed to target the U.S. satellite network.

Russia does not appear close to deploying the weapon, the report said, meaning the threat is not immediate. But if deployed, the technology could "destroy civilian communications, surveillance from space and military command-and control operations by the U.S. and its allies," the Times reported. The report also raised alarm that Russia is preparing to abandon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which bans all nuclear weapons in space.

Reports of the new intelligence came after Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a cryptic statement Feb. 14 warning about a "serious national security threat," urging President Joe Biden to "declassify all information relating to this threat so that Congress, the administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat."

Other lawmakers pushed back, arguing there was no cause for public alarm.

In a joint statement later the same day, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sens. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pushed back, saying their committee "has the intelligence in question and has been rigorously tracking this issue from the start."

"We continue to take this matter seriously and are discussing an appropriate response with the administration," the statement said. "In the meantime, we must be cautious about potentially disclosing sources and methods that may be key to preserving a range of options for U.S. action."

The White House's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Feb. 14 at a press briefing that classified briefings with Congress were scheduled prior to Turner's statement, calling himself "a bit surprised" by the public statement when there was already "a meeting on the books for me to go sit with him alongside our intelligence and defense professionals tomorrow."

The Catholic Church has long opposed the use of or the development of new nuclear weapons as intrinsically immoral and has been calling for nuclear-armed nations, including the U.S., to join international agreements that would ban these weapons.

In a Jan. 22 statement marking the third anniversary of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, U.S. Archbishops John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Paul D. Etienne and three Japanese prelates wrote that "no nuclear weapons powers or their allies have stepped forth to support the treaty, even as the geopolitical climate continues to deteriorate and the risk of nuclear accident, miscalculation or war increases."

"The nuclear-armed states have a moral obligation to hear the voices of the majority of the world and to listen to those who are threatened by annihilation at the decision of any one of the nine leaders of the nuclear weapons states," they said. Signing the statement along with Archbishops Wester and Etienne were Japan's Archbishop Peter Michiaki Nakamura of Nagasaki, Bishop Alexis Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima and retired Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki.

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