Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nuclear Weapons and the Kremlin

While much of the world’s attention has been focused on a rogue state like Iran building nuclear
Vladimir Putin
weapons, the greater threat facing the world, especially the West, is a current nuclear state going rogue.

Russia and its autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin, just announced that on the evening he authorized the surreptitious seizure of the Crimea that he was prepared to raise the alert status of Russian nuclear force to anticipate any military reaction from the West.

Putin and Battlefield Nukes

The revelation came in a television production celebrating the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. It follows a number of recent threatening statements and reports that Russian conventional forces are preparing to use battlefield nuclear weapons.

The February 14 edition of The Economist reported that restraints related to use of nuclear weapons have diminished since the Cold War experience and use of nuclear weapons have become a more commonplace part of Russian military doctrine.

It is unclear who Putin thought he needed to threaten with nuclear weapons. There was no force in the West capable of action and no will to engage even if there was an army. But it is Central Europe that should take the threat seriously. When Putin says he could be in Kiev in two weeks, does he think with the benefit of battlefield nuclear weapons he could be on the Oder in a month while German elites are casually quaffing Bavarian lager in Berlin?

DEFCON 3 – 9/11

America pledges to only use nuclear weapons defensively, and on three occasions the U.S. alert status; i.e., DEFCON, has been raised. The closest moment to nuclear war was in the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev faced off over Cuba. President Nixon raised the status in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, but for many people, it was just another of the regular flare ups in the Middle East. Finally, President George W. Bush put the U.S. at DEFCON 3 after 9-11.

Except for old Cold War arms analysts and patrons of WarGames (1983), most people and nearly all students have little awareness of the concept of DEFCON or nuclear weapons as regular threats in dealing with ambitious and expansionist powers (or in the case of WarGames, a runaway computer program).

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