Russian President Vladimir Putin took "unprecedented" post-Cold War action Sunday, February 27, by ordering his nuclear deterrent forces to be on alert as international tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spiraled.
The United States said Putin was escalating the war with "dangerous rhetoric", amid signs that the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two was not producing rapid victories, but instead generating a far-reaching and concerted "political, strategic, economic and corporate Western response" less than four days after it started.(REUTERS - "Putin puts nuclear deterrent on alert; West squeezes Russian economy")
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows the limits of nuclear deterrence
“Nuclear deterrence comes with tremendous risks and enormous costs. The arguments in favor of deterrence, although sometimes convincing, are not always true. We must acknowledge that nuclear deterrence could fail. That’s why, despite the trillions of dollars spent on nuclear arsenals, no one sleeps soundly under a nuclear umbrella—especially during a crisis such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin has given orders to increase the alert level of Russia’s nuclear forces and has made veiled nuclear threats. The blatant aggression against Ukraine has shocked Europe and the world. The war is a tragedy for Ukraine. It also exposes the limits of the West’s reliance on nuclear deterrence.
“In a shocking move that unearthed long-buried fears from the Cold War era, Putin ordered Russian nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch on Sunday, ratcheting up tensions with Europe and the United States over the conflict.
The Russian president told his defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put the nuclear deterrent forces in “special regime of combat duty.”
He said that leading NATO powers had made “aggressive statements” toward Russia in addition to stiff economic sanctions and cutting leading Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system.”
Declassified documents show security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major, and Woerner
Slavic Studies Panel Addresses “Who Promised What to Whom on NATO Expansion?”
Washington D.C., December 12, 2017 – U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (http://nsarchive.gwu.edu).
The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s implied threat to turn the Ukraine crisis into a nuclear war presents President Joe Biden and U.S. allies with choices rarely contemplated in the atomic age. One choice is whether to raise the alert level of U.S. nuclear forces in response. Putin put Russian nuclear forces in what he called a “special regime of combat duty.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s implied threat to turn the Ukraine war into a broader nuclear conflict presents President Joe Biden with choices rarely contemplated in the atomic age, including whether to raise the alert level of U.S. nuclear forces.
This turn of events is all the more remarkable for the fact that less than a year ago, Putin and Biden issued a statement at their Geneva summit that seemed more in keeping with the idea that the threat of nuclear war was a Cold War relic. “Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” they agreed.
“By merely suggesting a nuclear response, Putin put into play the disturbing possibility that the current fighting in Ukraine might eventually veer into an atomic confrontation between Russia and the United States.”
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — It has been a long time since the threat of using nuclear weapons has been brandished so openly by a world leader, but Vladimir Putin has just done it, warning in a speech that he has the weapons available if anyone dares to use military means to try to stop Russia’s takeover of Ukraine.
The threat may have been empty, a mere baring of fangs by the Russian president, but it was noticed. It kindled visions of a nightmarish outcome in which Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine could lead to a nuclear war through accident or miscalculation.
“As for military affairs, even after the dissolution of the USSR and losing a considerable part of its capabilities, today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states,” Putin said, in his pre-invasion address early Thursday.
AS THE WEEK BEGAN, nonproliferation advocates weren’t optimistic that President Joe Biden would stand by his early commitments to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” He might reverse former President Donald Trump’s decisions to pursue a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile or to retain the B83 gravity bomb, the most destructive weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, they thought. He might roll back Trump’s policy allowing a nuclear response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” or even consider a coveted “no first use” policy that Biden had shown interest in as vice president. But prospects that he would do the heavier lifting and halt Northrop Grumman’s contract to replace the intercontinental ballistic missile system — considered one of the most dangerous and unnecessary weapons in the nuclear arsenal — were practically nonexistent. Combined with multiple other weapons programs, the brand-new ICBM system puts the U.S. in its largest nuclear modernization effort since the Cold War.
By promising a response “never seen” in history if other countries interfere in Ukraine, the Russian leader upended decades of relative stability.
THE FIRST IMAGES out of Russia’s fresh invasion of Ukraine appeared to herald a fairly traditional land war: tanks battling, artillery firing, and planes swooping low over cities. But even as Western leaders moved to craft a strong response to Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression, they did so warily, conscious that the dramatic escalation in Eastern Europe could spill over into two new domains with much larger implications for the world beyond: cyberspace and nuclear weaponry.
In his speech early Thursday morning, Moscow time, Putin announced what he called a “special military operation” and issued a stark warning against Western intervention.
“No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history,”
He said, in remarks officially translated by the Kremlin that seemed to leave little doubt as to the threat of nuclear retaliation.
Climate change is not the only man-made threat that could wipe out humanity; a nuclear war would also do that
Suddenly, the threat of nuclear war feels closer than it has in decades. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists updated their Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, and President Joe Biden has issued increasingly ominous statements reflecting how the looming conflict over the Ukraine that could ensnare both Russia and the west into conventional war.
And, some fear, war with nuclear weapons. It is a prospect that has haunted human beings since the dawn of the Cold War. Politicians who were perceived as too open to the idea of nuclear war would pay for their hawkishness at the polls. Motion pictures from “Dr. Strangelove” to “The Day After” have depicted an uninhabitable world, filled with lethal amounts of radiation and short on necessities like food and water.
“The great powers can no longer pursue a zero-sum game to see who will come out on top. It is possible that one of them will emerge on top of the heap—but the heap may well be a global ash pile.”
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, it is appropriate to consider what the actual consequences of war there might be. An armed conventional conflict in Ukraine would be a terrible humanitarian disaster.
Last week, US government officials estimated that the fighting could kill 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, 5,000 to 25,000 Ukrainian military personnel, and 3,000 to 10,000 Russian soldiers. It could also generate 1-to-5 million refugees.
These figures are based on the assumption that only conventional weapons are used. However, if the conflict spread beyond Ukraine’s borders and NATO became involved in the fighting, this would become a major war between nuclear-armed forces with the very real danger that nuclear weapons would be used—and the public debate about this crisis is utterly lacking in discussion of this terrible threat.