On a Sunday in September… StratDem focus attention on the following ‘Closer to Getting Nuked’ thoughts. First from the Washington Post Editorial Board, then from a Financial Times’ Bureau Chief in Moscow. Then from Presidents Putin and Zelenskyy …
First — Via the Washington Post
Putin tears at the fabric of nuclear restraint. Words are dangerous…
By the Editorial Board
September 24, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably not drop an atomic bomb on Ukraine, if only because doing so would prove exceptionally costly for Russia and the world. But his words have consequences, and in threatening to use nuclear weapons, reaching for shock effect, Mr. Putin is venturing into extreme recklessness.
Russia possesses up to 2,000 nonstrategic or tactical nuclear weapons, mostly designed for relatively short-range use on a battlefield or for defensive systems. Bombs to be dropped from planes and warheads for missiles are held in reserve, in central storage depots, on which the United States presumably keeps close watch. These tactical nuclear weapons have never been limited by treaty. As for longer-range weapons, the New START accord between Russia and the United States limits each to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.
Without any doubt, the use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would create a humanitarian cataclysm. As Paul Craig and John Jungerman noted in a history of the arms race, “The overwhelming fact of the nuclear fire is that it is more powerful by a factor of 10 million to 100 million than chemical fires,” such as those in conventional weapons. The blast, heat and radiation from a nuclear bomb could easily spread beyond Ukraine to endanger lives in Russia and elsewhere. This grim prospect of blowback might restrain Mr. Putin, if he is thinking rationally. Also, Mr. Putin cannot simply launch nuclear weapons with the push of a button; there are other people, including the defense leadership, involved in the process. There are no military gains to be had from a nuclear attack that indiscriminately incinerates everything in its path and leaves the land uninhabitable. At the same time, Russia’s military and security forces have so far apparently not slowed Mr. Putin’s disastrous war adventure.
Even if Russia is not likely to use a nuclear weapon, Mr. Putin’s threats are disquieting and irresponsible. An atomic bomb has not been used in combat since 1945. One reason: deterrence, the “cocked pistols” confrontation of the superpowers. These mountains of nuclear warheads were eventually reduced as the Cold War ended, but historian Nina Tannenwald has shown that beyond deterrence, the utter destructive nature of nuclear weapons reinforced a powerful taboo — a revulsion — against actual military use. The frightening experience of the Cuban missile crisis and periodic false alarms throughout the nuclear age no doubt deepened the taboo. Russia’s latest nuclear deterrence principles, approved by Mr. Putin in 2020, say cautiously that a nuclear weapon can be used only if the country is under nuclear attack or “the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Mr. Putin now jumps beyond this, threatening to use nuclear weapons “in the event of a threat to the territorial integrity” of the nation while attempting to draw new borders by force.
Mr. Putin is straining the fabric of the nuclear taboo. Bluff or not, he escalates danger for all. The Biden administration is right to deliver private warnings to Mr. Putin of grave consequences for nuclear use. Mr. Putin should remember the wise words of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Second — Via Twitter and Financial Times
Dispatch from Max Seddon (Bureau Chief of FT – the Financial Times) in Moscow
… Disconcerted by how many people in Moscow have told me they see Russia as ready to use nuclear weapons
September 25, 2022
Kyiv’s western allies boost nuclear deterrence after Putin’s threats
White House security adviser Jake Sullivan says US is taking the threat ‘deadly seriously’
Western capitals are making contingency plans should Vladimir Putin take steps towards acting on his threats of nuclear attacks against Ukraine and are sending private warnings to the Kremlin about possible consequences, according to western officials.
The Russian president’s nuclear warnings are “a matter that we have to take deadly seriously,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS on Sunday (9/25).
“We have communicated directly, privately at very high levels to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the United States and our allies will respond decisively, and we have been clear and specific about what that will entail.”
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