- World leaders would be angry, affronted, fearful.
- For U.S. officials and world leaders, discussions of how to respond to a limited nuclear attack are no longer theoretical.
- That suggested he was vulnerable to world condemnation over his Ukraine invasion, and worse to come if he broke the post-World War II taboo on the nuclear attack, she said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and veiled threats to use nuclear weapons have officials in the past and present pondering the unthinkable as reported by Military.
The default U.S. policy answer, say some architects of the post-Cold War nuclear order, is discipline and restraint.
But no one can count on calm minds to prevail in such a moment, and real life seldom go to plan.
World leaders would be angry, affronted, fearful.
Miscommunication and confusion could be rife.
Demands would be great for tough retaliation — the kind that can be done with nuclear-loaded missiles capable of moving faster than the speed of sound.
Gottemoeller, a chief U.S. nuclear negotiator with Russia for the Obama administration, said that the outlines that President Joe Biden has provided so far of his nuclear policy stick with those of past administrations in using atomic weapons only in “extreme circumstances.”
Limited nuclear attack
For former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who over nearly a quarter-century in Congress helped shape global nuclear policy, the option of Western nuclear use has to remain on the table.
“If President Putin were to use nuclear weapons, or any other country uses nuclear weapons first, not in response to a nuclear attack, not in response to an existential threat to their own country … that leader should assume that they are putting the world in the high risk of a nuclear war, and nuclear exchange,” Nunn said.
For U.S. officials and world leaders, discussions of how to respond to a limited nuclear attack are no longer theoretical.
In the first hours and days of Russia’s invasion, Putin referenced Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
He warned Western countries to stay out of the conflict, saying he was putting his nuclear forces on heightened alert.
Danger going up
How to respond to any use by Russia of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was among the issues discussed by Biden and other Western leaders when they met in Europe in late March.
Three NATO members — the United States, Britain and France — have nuclear weapons.
Even comparatively small tactical nuclear weapons approach the strength of the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II.
Biden made no known move to raise the U.S. nuclear alert status.
While Gottemoeller argued that Ukraine’s surrendering of its Soviet nuclear arsenal in 1994 opened the door for three decades of international integration and growth, she said some governments may take a different lesson from nuclear Russia’s invasion of non-nuclear Ukraine — that they need nuclear bombs as a matter of survival.
Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute, said the nuclear danger is going up.
Gottemoeller took heart in Putin grumbling publicly late last month about “cancel culture.”
The danger today isn’t yet as great as in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles on Cuba raised the threat of nuclear war with the U.S., he said.
The modern threat of cyberattacks adds to the risk of a mistaken launch.
And it’s not clear how the vulnerable U.S. and, especially, Russian systems are to such hacking attempts, he said.
Putin “has been very reckless in his sabre rattling with nuclear weapons,” Nunn said.
“And that I think has made everything more dangerous, including a blunder.”
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