WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia’s attack on Ukraine and be veiled threats to use nuclear weapons Policymakers past and present have thought the unthinkable: How should the West respond to the detonation of a nuclear bomb on the Russian battlefield?
The standard US policy response, say some architects of the post-Cold War nuclear order, is discipline and restraint. That could mean tightening sanctions and isolating Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Rose Gottemoeller, NATO’s deputy secretary general from 2016 to 2019.
But no one can count on a calm mind at such a moment, and real life rarely goes according to plan. World leaders would be angry, offended, afraid. Misunderstanding and confusion could be widespread. Hackers could add to the chaos. Demands for harsh retaliation would be great – the kind that can be done with nuclear-loaded missiles that can travel faster than the speed of sound.
When military and civilian officials and experts have played out nuclear tensions between Russia and the US in the past, the plan drills sometimes end with nuclear missiles firing across continents and oceans, hitting the capitals of Europe and North America and killing millions within hours, Olga Oliker said , Program Director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group.
“And you know, pretty soon you just had a global thermonuclear war,” Oliker said.
It’s a scenario officials hope to avoid even if Russia attacks Ukraine with a nuclear bomb.
So said Gottemoeller, a chief US nuclear negotiator with Russia for the Obama administration the outlines that President Joe Biden has given his nuclear policy so far Adhere to previous governments to use nuclear weapons only under “extreme circumstances”.
“And a single Russian nuclear-use demonstration strike or — horrific as it would be — a nuclear use in Ukraine, I don’t think would reach that level,” to call for a US nuclear response, said Gottemoeller, now a professor at Stanford University .
For former Senator Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who has helped shape global nuclear policy in Congress for nearly a quarter century, the option of Western nuclear use must remain on the table.
“That is the lesson of mutually assured destruction It’s been around for a long, long time,” said Nunn, now a strategic advisor to the Nuclear Threat Initiative security organization, which he co-founded.
“If President Putin were to use nuclear weapons, or another country uses nuclear weapons first, not in response to a nuclear attack, not in response to an existential threat to his own country… that leader should assume that they are doing so in the high risk of a world Nuclear war and nuclear exchanges,” Nunn said.
For US officials and world leaders, discussions are about how to respond to a limited nuclear attack no longer theoretical. In the first hours and days of the Russian 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 high alert.
Any country that interfered in Russia’s invasion would face consequences “unlike you have seen in your entire history,” Putin said.
How to respond to Russia’s use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was among the issues discussed by Biden and other Western leaders at their late March meeting in Europe. Three NATO members – the United States, Britain and France – possess nuclear weapons.
An overarching concern is that by using some nuclear weapons as tactical weapons for use in combat, Russia could break the nearly eight-decade long global taboo against using nuclear weapons against another country. Even comparatively small tactical nuclear weapons are as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II.
Gottemoeller and Nunn commend Biden’s reticence in the face of Putin’s implied nuclear warnings earlier in the war. Biden has taken no known steps to raise the 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 to be at greater risk of nuclear conflict due to Putin’s botched invasion and nuclear threats, according to experts and arms control negotiators.
The weaknesses exposed by Russia’s invasion in its conventional armed forces could make Putin feel even more compelled in the future to threaten to use nuclear weapons as his best weapon against the far stronger United States and NATO.
While Gottemoeller argued that The handover of the Soviet nuclear arsenal by Ukraine Opening the door to three decades of international integration and growth in 1994, she said some governments may learn another lesson from Russia’s nuclear invasion of non-nuclear Ukraine – that they need nuclear bombs as a matter of survival.
Jeffrey Lewis, arms control expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute, said the nuclear threat is rising.
“And we can say which avenues would lead to this risk increasing further. And certainly direct conflict with Russia from forces stationed in NATO countries is a route to nuclear war,” Lewis said.
Gottemoeller encouraged himself when Putin publicly scolded the “breakdown culture” at the end of last month. That indicated he was facing global condemnation for his invasion of Ukraine, and worse would come if he broke the post-war taboo on nuclear attacks, she said.
Detonating a nuclear bomb in a country that Putin sought to rule, one alongside his own, would not be rational, Nunn said. But he said neither was Putin’s announcement of heightened nuclear alert.
As a young congressional aide during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nunn witnessed US officers and airmen standing by in Europe to receive orders to launch nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. The danger is not as great today as it was in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet stationing of nuclear missiles in Cuba posed the threat of nuclear war with the United States, he said.
But the risk of a deliberate nuclear escalation is now high enough to make a ceasefire in Ukraine crucial, Nunn said. The modern threat of cyber attacks increases the risk of a failed boot. And it’s not clear how vulnerable US and especially Russian systems are to such hacking attempts, he said.
Putin “was very ruthless in his saber-rattling with nuclear weapons,” Nunn said. “And that, in my opinion, made everything more dangerous, including one mistake.”