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Monday, December 05, 2022

West, Russia consider key steps in a ‘more dangerous’ world

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its covert threats to use nuclear weapons did policymakers, past and present, think the unthinkable: How should the West respond to a Russian battlefield explosion of a nuclear bomb?

The standard American policy response, say some architects of the post-Cold War nuclear order, is with discipline and self-control. This could mean tightening sanctions and isolation for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Rose Gottemoeller, Deputy Secretary-General of NATO from 2016 to 2019.

But no one can count on calm moods to prevail in such a moment, and real life rarely goes according to plan. World leaders would be angry, insulted, scared. Miscommunication and confusion can be great. Hackers can contribute to the chaos. Demands will be great for tough retaliation – the kind that can be done with nuclear-laden missiles that can move faster than the speed of sound.

When military and civilian officials and experts have had warlike Russian-US nuclear tensions in the past, the table exercises sometimes end with nuclear missiles hitting continents and oceans, hitting the capitals of Europe and North America and killing millions within hours, Olga said . Oliker, Program Director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group.

“And you know, soon enough, you just had a global thermonuclear war,” Oliker said.

This is a scenario that officials hope to avoid, even if Russia targets Ukraine with a nuclear bomb.

Gottemoeller, a chief US nuclear negotiator with Russia for the Obama administration, said the explanations provided by President Joe Biden so far of his nuclear policy adhere to those of previous administrations by using nuclear weapons only in “extreme circumstances”.

“And a single Russian nuclear use demonstration strike, or – as horrific as it would be – a nuclear use in Ukraine, I do not think would rise to that level” to demand a US nuclear response, says Gottemoeller, now a lecturer at Stanford University.

For former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who has helped shape global nuclear policy in Congress for nearly a quarter of a century, must keep the option of Western nuclear use on the table.

“This is what the doctrine of mutual insured destruction is. has been around for a long, long time, “says Nunn, now strategic advisor to the Nuclear Threat Initiative safety organization, which he co-founded.

“If President Putin were to use nuclear weapons, or any other country use nuclear weapons first, not in response to a nuclear attack, not in response to an existential threat to their own country … that leader must accept that they are entering the world. the high risk of a nuclear war, and nuclear power exchange, ”Nunn said.

For US officials and world leaders, discussions on how to respond to a limited nuclear attack are no longer theoretical. In the first hours and days of Russia’s invasion, Putin referred to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.. He warned Western countries to stay out of the conflict and said he was putting his nuclear forces on heightened alert.

“Any country that interferes with Russia’s invasion will have consequences” like you have never seen in your entire history, “Putin said.

How to respond to any use by Russia of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was one of the issues discussed by Biden and other Western leaders when they met in Europe at the end of March. Three NATO members – the United States, Britain and France – have nuclear weapons.

One overarching concern is that Russia could break the almost eight-decade-old global taboo against using a nuclear weapon against another country by using some nuclear weapons as tactical weapons to be used in combat. Even relatively small tactical nuclear weapons approach the strength of the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.

Gottemoeller and Nunn praise Biden’s self-control in light of Putin’s implicit nuclear warnings at the outset of the war. Biden has not made any known move to increase US nuclear alert status. The US also postponed a routine Minuteman III test launch last month to avoid escalating tensions.

But in the short and long term, the world appears more at risk for a nuclear conflict because of Putin’s cluttered invasion and nuclear threats, according to arms control experts and negotiators.

The weaknesses that Russia’s invasion of its conventional military might have exposed could make Putin feel even more compelled in future to threaten nuclear use as his best weapon against the much stronger United States and NATO.

While Gottemoeller argued that Ukraine’s surrender of its Soviet nuclear arsenal in 1994 opened the door to three decades of international integration and growth, she said some governments could take a different lesson from Russia’s invasion of non-nuclear Ukraine – that they need nuclear bombs as a matter of survival .

Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons control expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute, said the nuclear danger is increasing.

“And we can see which roads will increase the risk further. “And certainly direct conflict with Russia of forces based in NATO countries is one path to a nuclear war,” Lewis said.

Gottemoeller had courage in Putin, who publicly complained about “canceling culture” late last month. This indicates that he is vulnerable to world condemnation over his Ukraine invasion, and worse to come if he breaks the post-World War II taboo on nuclear attack, she said.

The explosion of a nuclear bomb in a country over which Putin sought rule, one next to his own, would not be rational, Nunn said. But he also did not say Putin’s announcement of heightened nuclear warning.

As a young congressional assistant during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nunn saw US officers and pilots in Europe assist in orders to launch nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. The danger today is not yet as great as in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles on Cuba increased the threat of nuclear war with the United States, he said.

But the risk of deliberate nuclear escalation is now high enough to make a ceasefire in Ukraine crucial, Nunn said. The modern threat of cyberattacks contributes to the risk of misdirection. And it is not clear how vulnerable American and especially Russian systems are to such intrusion attempts, he said.

Putin “was very reckless in his saber rattling with nuclear weapons,” Nunn said. “And that I think made everything more dangerous, including a mistake.”

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