Vladimir Putin’s Nuke Threats Hinge on His Monopoly in the Area–Is It Time to Change That?

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, appears to have set a new record; along with persuading Finns and Swedes to sign up for NATO, he has lost the world's largest warship to enemy fire since World War II. And he has convinced a large number of non-nuke Europeans that their country is in need of nuclear weapons. This comes from “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” and the nutters who repeatedly intimated us by blaming the “Doomsday Clock” for decades.

From March 26th on, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, laid out the conditions of a Russian response that could include a nuclear attack against countries to its west as a result of an attack on critical infrastructure, which “will have paralyzed [Russian] nuclear deterrent forces” or any “act of aggression committed against Russia and its allies, which jeopardized the existence of the country itself, even without the use of nuclear weapons.”

Moscow has emphasized its right to deploy nuclear weapons in the face of non-nuclear “existential” threats. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov recently warned that Moscow “can use, and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat for the existence of our country.”

Within Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Poland, between 77 and 93 percent of the people do not trust Russian decisions on nuclear energy. In all these countries, with the exception of Latvia, a large majority of people “strongly distrust” Russia's nuclear management. This suggests the possibility that Eastern Europeans worry–or, at least, they did in mid-March–that Putin's nuclear plans could be more than mere talk. This dread is accompanied by more general anti-Russian views. Nine out of 10 Americans expressed their opinions about Russia to be “unfavorable.”

Nuclear proliferation was not a popular choice in Lithuania and Latvia, with only 38 percent and 40 percent supporting it, respectively. For Romania and Estonia, the public was split between 55 percent and 46 percent, respectively. In Poland, which boasts by far the biggest economic and military power of the countries surveyed, more than two-thirds of the population openly stated that they would support a nuclear national weapons program.

The shift in attitude is shocking. The last time Poles faced the same question was in 2018, with 83.6 percent favoring abolishing nuclear weapons. However, the recent realization that a nuclear-free country could be quite helpless when confronted by an adversary with nuclear weapons has caused Poland to ask the U.S. to build nuclear weapons in Poland.

With that background, let's examine the issue.

Ukraine was once home to nuclear weapons. According to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in return for Ukraine surrendering the nuclear arsenal it had acquired in the former Soviet Union (USSR) as well as signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia all agreed to respect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine within its current boundaries and refrain from making threats with force or launching a military presence against Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly violated this treaty since 2014 and even before that, when considering the Putin puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, holding Ukraine's presidency. In the end, every country that borders Russia has realized that Russia is not a faithful keeper of its word and would not be reluctant to resort to force to enforce its wishes. Through their experiences of being subjugated by Russia, they have learned that Russians consider them inferior peoples…Untermenschen, I think the German philosopher called them.

Russia, on the other hand, appears to have baked the threat of nuclear war into the fabric of its foreign policies. Last week, Sweden and Finland received veiled nuclear threats when it became clear that they would be joining NATO. The threats have proved effective. It's not unusual to hear people say we shouldn't allow Putin to take over Ukraine since he's got nuclear weapons. When you consider that he's bound to possess nukes and if you're afraid because of them and you refuse to stand up for your allies and friends because of fear, you're no longer entitled to be considered a free citizen of a sovereign country. You're a slave of your own insanity and Vladimir Putin.

Even if Russia is defeated in this war against Ukraine, it is likely that Putin will not stop using the threat of nuclear weapons to make anyone feel threatened if they offend him. He will also be convinced of the fact that his having these weapons will deter NATO from acting in accordance with Article 5.

The question of strategic importance is how to live in a world where the crumbling Third World kleptocracy that is Russia is armed with nuclear weapons yet isn't able to use them to harass other nations or drag the world into nuclear war.

Here are two possibilities:

First, the West could provide tactical nuclear weapons and delivery systems similar to those that we had prior to emasculating ourselves through the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, including Pershing II, Pershing II, as well as the ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). These weapons will permit Poland as well as the Baltic States to strike population areas deep within Russia. They could thwart nuclear blackmail using nuclear blackmail.

The second option is to offer interested states delivery systems, while the West maintains the warheads in our custody to ensure security. This could be a rerun of the story created in our time during the Cold War when West Germany could not possess nukes. 

The rules must be clear. Each state is provided with not just two or three nukes but more than a dozen weapons that can ensure that some will withstand any preemptive attack and wipe out Moscow and St. Petersburg. The countries hosting them should inform Russia that should they attack and a single molecule of radioactive fallout lands on their soil or EMP damages a microchip of a single one, they will consider it a nuclear attack. The West should tell Russians, “not my monkey, not my circus.” Do you think Putin would really take on the risk of losing half a dozen Russian cities as part of an exchange of nuclear strikes with Lithuania? 

The only way to break the cycle of screaming in fear each time Putin is drunk and decides to attack someone with nuclear weapons is to put Russian cities in danger. This can be done by either resigning from the non-proliferation agreement that has reduced the ownership of nuclear weapons or by providing allies with nuclear-capable delivery systems and then keeping the weapons in reserve until the country requests their release. It's not an ideal concept to consider, but it's far better than the endless wars that have erupted within Eastern Europe brought on by Russia's capability to threaten nuclear war.

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