Pentagon Says Russia Is Upping Nuclear Ante

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Virginia -- Russia appears focused on strengthening its nuclear capabilities rather than its regular armed forces, which makes maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal increasingly important, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

The Pentagon chief, speaking to Air Force officers in Virginia, said Monday that the United States' need for nuclear weapons to deter potential enemies from striking would grow in the future.

While that is partly due to the risk that nuclear weapons will end up in the hands of anti-American groups or states, such as Iran, it is also related to Russia's plans to build its nuclear capabilities, Gates said.

"It seems clear that the Russians are focused as they look to the future more on strengthening their nuclear capabilities," he told reporters.

"So to the extent that they rely more and more on their nuclear capabilities as opposed to what historically has been a huge Russian conventional military capability, it seems to me that it underscores the importance of our sustaining a valid nuclear deterrent, a modern nuclear deterrent," he said.

Difficulty reforming the military has led Russia to determine that it may be more efficient to bolster its nuclear weapons capabilities instead, Gates said. "Russia is really not investing very much in their conventional forces," he said.