Russia

Here Are the Scenarios Where Putin Might Actually Use a Nuke

Written by Fred Kaplan

Vladimir Putin has been flaunting his nuclear arsenal since the invasion of Ukraine got underway. He has test-launched several cruise and ballistic missiles, ordered his underlings to up the alert level of Russia’s nuclear weapons, and even threatened to use them if the U.S. or NATO gets involved in the fighting. Is he serious? Might he really go nuclear in order to win this war?

Probably not, with one big caveat: If the U.S. or NATO were to intervene in the Ukraine war directly, sending boots on the ground or dropping bombs from the sky, then Putin might really push a button.

That’s why President Biden and other Western leaders have said they wouldn’t go that far to defend Ukraine. Putin regards Ukraine as part of Russia. He is killing thousands of people, including many of his own soldiers, in an effort to keep it that way. If we fought back directly, we would be in a war with Russia. If Putin thought he couldn’t win that war with conventional arms alone (he’s having a hard enough time against just the Ukrainian army), he might very well escalate to nuclear war. That’s what nuclear weapons are for—not just to deter a nuclear attack by an adversary but also to deter (and, if necessary, tip the course of) a large-scale conventional war.

This isn’t discussed much in public, but it has been an aspect of nuclear war plans—East and West—since the dawn of the atomic age. No American President has officially declared that the U.S. would never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict (even though several have privately believed we wouldn’t do so), in part because allies view the “nuclear umbrella”—the promise that we will, if necessary, use our nukes to protect them from attacks by common enemies—as part of America’s security guarantee. When Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost agreed to dismantle all of their nuclear weapons at the Reykjavik summit in 1986, the most alarmed parties were America’s NATO allies, who feared that Reagan was folding up the umbrella. When President Barack Obama led a National Security Council meeting to discuss whether the U.S. should adopt a “no-first-use” nuclear policy, a Pentagon official leaked it to the media. Hours later, the Japanese foreign minister came calling to make sure it wasn’t so.

Read more at MSN

About the author

Fred Kaplan