We can never be complaisant about the possible use of nuclear weapons, especially as nuclear danger rises. We certainly can’t rule out the possibility of nuclear weapons’ use in Ukraine. And yet, the rise in nuclear danger has been manufactured. Objective risk factors regarding first use are low in this war. Russia enjoys marked conventional superiority. If conventional superiority fails to achieve Putin’s ambitions, his use of nuclear weapons will vastly compound his failure. He’s not fighting U.S. forces in Ukraine; he’s fighting a massive homeland defense, against which mushroom clouds are not remotely justified. And Putin’s command and control apparatus is strong, making unauthorized use implausible.
On top of this, if Putin were to authorize the use of nuclear weapons against a state that has given up this option by voluntarily returning warheads to the Russian Federation, he would join the ranks of history’s most reviled mass murderers. Does the man on a mission to “denazify” (sic) Ukraine wish to become a modern-day Hitler?
Yes, this is a stretch, but it’s a purposeful one: If we wish to extend the seven-decade-long norm of not having mushroom clouds appear in warfare, then it’s okay to exaggerate the prospective crime. And it’s far better to exaggerate the crime than to hype the threat of nuclear weapons’ use in this war. When we hype Putin’s implied threats, we play into his hands. [Continue reading…]
When Gen. Mark Milley emerged from six hours of tense talks with his Russian counterpart in Helsinki last September, the Joint Chiefs chair looked almost buoyant. Or at least as chipper as the gruff soldier of more than 40 years ever gets in public. “When military leaders of great powers communicate, the world is a safer place,” Milley said, striking an optimistic tone.
Now, just five months later, with Russian military forces pummeling Ukraine from the air, land and sea, Milley’s paean to a common understanding with Moscow is virtually dead.
But his relationship with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian Armed Forces, is at the center of a highly sensitive behind-the-scenes effort to prevent the biggest war in Europe in generations from spinning into a wider conflict. It’s a situation that became more urgent on Sunday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nuclear forces on high alert after a series of what he called “aggressive statements” by NATO powers.
Since their meeting in Finland, the two men have spoken multiple times, including during the initial Russian buildup in November and again earlier this month. [Continue reading…]