Nuking Ukraine

At UnHerd Kevin Ryan argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine sooner rather than later:

For much of the last 80 years, Russia’s security has rested on two pillars whose relative strength has waxed and waned — its conventional ground forces and its nuclear weapons. The conventional forces have been used to influence, bully and force Russia’s neighbours and adversaries to bend to its will. The nuclear forces were intended to deter the United States and the West from interfering militarily in Russia and its perceived zone of influence. Since the end of the Cold War, however, Russia’s conventional forces have at times struggled with their share of the task. To compensate, Russian leaders have had to rely on their nuclear forces to do both: strategic nuclear weapons to deter the West and tactical nuclear weapons to threaten neighbours.

Today, a single nuclear strike in Ukraine could thwart a Ukrainian counterattack with little loss of Russian lives.


None of this is to say that we in the West should pressure Ukraine to forgo its goal to liberate all seized territory. But it does mean that we should anticipate a nuclear attack and develop possible responses. As soon as Russia uses a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, the fallout will start to spread. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians will be dead, suffering or dealing with the effects of the explosion. Hundreds of millions of Europeans will be bracing for war. But 7 billion others around the globe will go about their business, alarmed but physically unaffected.

I have no idea whether his reasoning is sound or not. I suspect he’s overestimating how many of its military resources Russia has already deployed against Ukraine. For example, I don’t believe that Russia has deployed any of the 300,000 troops it called up several months ago against Ukraine.

Said another way the issue may be whether we’re talking about a first resort or a last resort.

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