By John Erath
On January 31, I posted some concerns about Russia’s actions as it prepared for what is now clearly an invasion of Ukraine, backed by nuclear threats. At that time, the nuclear nature of the threat was more implicit than explicit, and the casual reader, if a casual reader of this blog exists, could be forgiven for believing that I was overstating the danger to make a point.
The alerting of Russian nuclear forces, accompanied by clear statements from Russian leaders should dispel any doubt. Putin wants NATO to believe he will use nuclear weapons should the war involve NATO forces. It is possible at this time to argue over the magnitude of the danger, but the point is clear: the risk of nuclear war is greater now than before Putin made his threat, and any increase in that risk, however small, is grounds for serious concern.
What should also be clear is the need to avoid overreaction. Specifically, U.S. and NATO leaders should consider carefully before taking any steps that would increase the numbers of nuclear weapons. NATO’s nuclear policy states that “the fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression.” It should go without saying that before deciding to build more nuclear weapons, Congress, NATO and all citizens must demand answers to the questions about why existing stockpiles were deemed insufficient for deterrence and why a given number of new weapons would remedy the situation must be answered. Simply building more weapons would not necessarily guarantee greater deterrence or prevent Putin from making more threats. It could actually have an opposite effect and convince the Russian leader that his threats could provoke reaction from the West.
It should also be obvious that a world with more nuclear weapons is almost certainly more dangerous than one with fewer. If several thousand NATO nuclear weapons are not enough to dissuade Putin from attacking his neighbors, why would adding several hundred make a difference? At a time when the possibility that a nuclear weapon might be used is greater than at any moment since the end of the Cold War, our thinking should be about lowering numbers of nuclear weapons, however remote the possibility. The response to threats should not be to answer in kind, but to work to reduce and (eventually) eliminate the means to make such threats.