Will he, or won't he?
Reality check for Putin and his crazy nuclear threats
Ever since Putin launched his unprovoked and disastrous war against his innocent, neighbor, Ukraine, he’s been either hinting at or overtly threatening the use of WMD, more specifically “nukes.” The sheer insanity of such threats is staggering but a closer look, just look may defang, some of our worst fears. Let’s give it a try. I will try to also avoid the legitimately complex language, of the arms control world.
First and foremost, a full-scale nuclear contest is what has long been termed, MAD, or “mutually assured destruction.” In simple terms, the absolute end to life as we know it. Putin knows this as well as anyone and is unlikely to commit suicide. This is not as unlikely as it was when the MAD doctrine became a routine assumption in the nuclear community but still, such a use would deny Putin, all that he is seeking with, “Putin’s War.
With the evolution of geo-politics and the end of the Cold War, nuclear policy has evolved from just relying on MAD. It also includes “proportionate response doctrine” meant to deal with a limited attack by a nuclear armed entity. This is a bit more optimistic regarding survival but still devastating in a variety of ways. This is qualified good news… sort of. As a committed optimist, I err on the side of optimism. The question that I delt with, while on the road to qualified optimism, is why.
Since doctrine has evolved into the potential for limited application of nukes, it has forced every nuclear community to develop a more diverse selection of tactics and tools to deal with such threats. For the obvious reason, I am not going to discuss any of these tactics and technology here. Let’s just say, even with this topic not being one of my expertise specifically, I am knowledgeable about some of these better options. What I am familiar with, gives me far more confidence in US and some allied security.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Putin, who is soulless, has the propensity to gamble on a limited, tactical or similar deployment of these horrific weapons. He abides by no law, treaty of commitment. AS a result, there is virtually no reason to negotiate with him. Besides the historic, Russian paranoia of the west, baked into Russian identity, Putin has his own starkly personal version too. This coupled with reporting, since 2008 at least suggesting declining, cognitive abilities is not encouraging. Since reporting has taken this likely decline of Putin’s mental health, those in the US and allied nuclear forces have wisely focused on countermeasures. This should bolster everyone’s confidence somewhat.
Finally, the White House has done an excellent job managing Putin’s threats and in conjunction with our allies. Today’s statement by the NSA, National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, is blunt and to the point. Well done, WH. This statement includes public insight or two of the primary factors in managing Putin’s threats, deterrence and communication. This simply means that the WH, has made it expressly clear, with zero ambiguity that should Putin attempt to deploy any type of WMD, especially nukes of some sort that the response for him and Russia would be devastating. This clear understanding is the “deterrence.”
Secondly regarding communication. Talks directly between the highest level of US national security personnel directly with Russia’s have reinforced how serious the US is on this topic. For those of old enough to recall the “Cuban Missile crisis” (yep, includes me), the painful MAD potential event, driven by the then, Soviet Union prompted the installation of the so-called “red phone” so that the US president could communicate directly with Moscow’s equivalent. True, there never was an actual telephone but the use of direct communications did come into being and relayed to the public, that it was an actual phone. That communication, coupled with expert diplomacy literally may have save the world from MAD events.
Okay, the above should help everyone breath a bit easier regarding a nuclear war of sorts and I hope that this helps you enjoy your weekend more than prior. I do want to just add a related note that is slightly less optimistic but still rather unlikely to occur.
There is a long list of WMD types, not just nuclear. Putin has, with his invasion, systematically adopted a scorched earth policy that leaves Ukraine incapable of surviving post war. This includes destroying Ukraine’s ability to be the breadbasket of Europe and much of the rest of the world with their immense and excellent agriculture industry. They have occupied and threatened radiological “dirty bombs” by allegedly having accidental explosions at nuclear power stations. Chemical and biological weapons of a variety of sorts could be employed and some would require a relatively long time to conclusively declare that
“Moscow did it.” As we saw with COVID, some of these WMD uses pass borders rapidly and decisively. Such uses would eventually lead the US and allies to act decisively but it would take a fair amount of time.
I have to stop here because this is already getting deep. This is enough to chew on at the moment. The bottom line is simple, Putin’s use of WMD would finally see him hitting rock-bottom, while digging himself into a hole. It would undoubtedly bring an end to his leadership in Russia. He knows this and even as mad as he is currently behaving, the prognosis for his survivability is beyond low, literally, and figuratively.
For the time being, let’s all commit to supporting our fellow democracy-loving partners in Ukraine. Every dime spent is a fraction of what it would cost if we did it ourselves. The rules-based, international community, led by the US has wisely avoided an Article 5 trigger that would bring NATO directly into the conflict.
Let’s hope that cooler heads continue to prevail and that along with the support of the world’s good guys,” that Ukraine becomes the victor, sooner than later. Then comes the fight to force Russia to pay for reparations. We’ll get to that as we get closer to Ukraine’s victory. Remember, much of Russia’s $630bn of foreign exchange reserves is estimated to be held in the West. How about we freeze them now so they can be part of the reparations later? Hint hint.
For now, enjoy fall and your weekend but please, concurrently keep the victims of hurricane Ian in your thoughts and prayers.
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