Reviews | This is the best way to counter Putin’s nuclear threats

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Will Vladimir Putin really use nuclear weapons as part of his efforts to subjugate and dismantle Ukraine?

A few months ago, most observers dismissed this as highly unlikely. Putin had hinted at this possibility, but there was no concrete sign of readiness for nuclear use, and it seems irrational even beyond what we once knew about Putin.

Today, there is reason to take the question more seriously.

The speech that Putin gave on September 30, at a ceremony marking the illegal annexation of large parts of Ukrainian territory, demonstrated a mindset devoid of both rationality and reality. There were now only passing references to NATO expansion, and even Ukraine figured only marginally. Putin painted a distinctly bleak picture of a confrontation with a satanic West bent on smashing and destroying Russia itself. (And now, as if to underscore his rage, his forces have staged a series of brutal missile attacks against largely civilian targets in Kyiv and elsewhere.)

If that is his mindset, there is no reason to assume that he is not serious about threatening to use nuclear weapons. Russian official doctrine authorizes the use of nuclear weapons when the very existence of the Russian state is threatened – and a Ukrainian effort to expel Russian forces from its territory can hardly be described in these terms – but Putin’s rhetoric now comes very close to framing the situation in existential terms. He previously described the conflict as a “life or death” conflict for Russia.

Throughout the Cold War, NATO deterred the use of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union by threatening to use nuclear weapons in response – a posture known as “mutually assured destruction.” Currently, however, the West seems to be signaling that any direct response will be non-nuclear. This is a very sensible move to avoid escalation into all-out nuclear war, but at the same time it risks weakening deterrence.

Accordingly, it is now necessary to discuss how the broader effort to deter any use of nuclear weapons by Putin could be increased. Here are the elements of a policy to achieve this.

First, it should be made clear that any use of nuclear weapons should immediately make regime change in Russia the explicit goal of Western policy. And regime change should be explained as removing power from Putin – and everyone else directly involved in the decision to use nuclear weapons – and ultimately making them personally responsible for this crime against humanity.

Second, it must be made very clear that any Russian nuclear attack – even if Putin were to wipe out a number of cities killing tens of thousands – would in no way change fundamental Western policy. Such action would instead strengthen the resolve to ensure that Putin loses the war he started. Ukraine’s NATO membership would be part of the answer in this regard. It has already obtained the status of candidate for membership of the European Union.

Third, the West should seek to preemptively mobilize the widest possible international support for this policy. To use nuclear weapons is to cross the reddest of red lines in our world today, and we should start now with efforts to seek support for the strongest possible measures against Russia if that happens. product.

Fourth, a special effort should be made to engage the wavering nations of China and India. Most likely they would have strong objections to Putin using nuclear weapons, but they should be encouraged to communicate this to the Kremlin in advance, and preferably publicly as well. We should clarify that continuing their policy of tolerating Russian behavior would no longer be an option if they wish to preserve ties with the West.

Fifth, there should be active and visible preparations for credible conventional strikes against important Russian assets. The country has many critical vulnerabilities – including the base areas of its Black Sea and Baltic fleets or its liquefied natural gas facilities in the Arctic – and it is unclear whether its cyber defenses can withstand an attack supported. Putting such assets at explicit risk could be part of an enhanced deterrence policy.

A policy along these lines should be designed with the explicit aim of deterring Putin from continuing his slide into dangerous delusions and senseless behavior by making it clear to everyone around him that any attempt on his part to push the button nuclear would have catastrophic consequences for Russia – as well as for them personally.

But we have to be realistic. At worst, we should be ready to carry out these policies. In such a situation, other elements should quickly be added to the policy.

We are in a potentially more dangerous situation that the Cuban Missile Crisis. We are faced with a Kremlin leader who could actually say what he says about this being a “life or death” struggle. We must do all we can to deter Moscow – and everyone there in a position to influence events – from the ultimate madness.

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