The West is miscalculating if it thinks it can safely push Putin to the brink.
By Patricia Adams and Lawrence Solomon, published by The Epoch Times
In an address to his nation in September, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would use nuclear weapons if Russia’s territorial integrity were threatened.
“This is not a bluff. … Our independence and freedom will be defended—I repeat—by all the systems available to us,” he said.
Most military authorities in the West all but dismiss Putin’s threat, confident that they can corner Putin without risking a nuclear response. “He knows very well that a nuclear war should never be fought and cannot be won,” stated NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The scenario that the West dismisses would begin with Russia’s use of a battlefield tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. The United States would then make good on its high-profile threat of an “overwhelming” retaliation by itself and its NATO allies against the Russian homeland using conventional non-nuclear weapons. That U.S. attack on Russia’s territorial integrity would then trigger Russia’s nuclear weapons doctrine, which calls for Russian nuclear-weapons retaliation against the United States and NATO.
When NATO asserts that a nuclear war cannot be won, it is referring to the doctrine of “mutual-assured destruction,” which posits that in an all-out nuclear war, both sides would annihilate each other, making nuclear war futile. The doctrine is strengthened by the popular belief that detonating nuclear bombs would lead to radioactive fallout that would render land uninhabitable.
These conventional wisdoms don’t stand up to scrutiny. The nuclear bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945—the only sources of real-world data involving the effects of radiation on nuclear bomb victims—provide compelling evidence that the devastation wrought by nuclear bombs is mostly limited to the target.
As documented by the Atomic Bomb Disease Institute of the Nagasaki University School of Medicine, most of the physical damage to property was confined to 1.2 miles from ground zero. As for the human toll, the bombs killed 97 percent of those who were within less than 1 mile of ground zero, 28 percent of those within 1.2 miles, and very few who were as much as 1.8 miles away.
The institute, which analyzed the medical records of 120,000 survivors continuously since 1968, found that deaths from radiation mostly occurred within a 1.8-to-2.5-mile radius from ground zero, where victims received high doses of radiation. Beyond 2.5 miles, the institute discovered, those who received relatively low doses of radiation outlived the general population. To underscore the short-lived nature of radiation from a nuclear bomb, Hiroshima was rebuilt in two years, and Nagasaki took longer for lack of funds. By the mid-1950s, their populations matched their pre-bomb size.
When pundits dismiss a Russian resort to nuclear weapons, they are referring to a tactical bomb of the same order of magnitude as the 21-kiloton Nagasaki bomb. Putin is merely “fearmongering,” asserted retired Gen. Jack Keane, chairman of the Institute for the Study of War, who says Putin’s generals wouldn’t undermine their army’s ability to continue its invasion. “His army on the battlefield, they’re not trained to deal with a radioactive nuclear battlefield.”
Keane should remember that Russians were involved in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, which taught that the only precautions Russian troops would need to take before entering a radioactive battlefield would be to avoid consuming produce from contaminated farms. At Chernobyl, lives were lost among firefighters in the inferno, who absorbed deadly amounts of radiation, but otherwise, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation found no scientific evidence of increases in “mortality or in non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure.”
If Russia were to defy the nuclear taboo and employ a tactical nuclear weapon, as some in the Russian military argue, the result could be catastrophic, but not because the battlefield would have become radioactive. The catastrophe would arise should the United States follow through with its threat of “catastrophic consequences” by unleashing massive non-nuclear bombardments of the Russian homeland in order to obliterate Russia’s military, topple its government, and end the Russian Federation. As punctuated by Putin, the United States intends to “finish off” Russia.
In the event of such an existential attack on the Russian homeland, Russia and its leaders—who would now have nothing to lose—would almost surely adhere to their long-established military doctrine and launch strategic nuclear weapons against the West. Any other response would be improbable, not least because Russia has a superior nuclear arsenal, according to Hans Christensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project.
While both countries have a comparable number of nuclear bombs—5,977 for Russia and 5,428 for the United States—Russia’s arsenal is in a superior state of readiness. Moreover, the United States seems to acknowledge that it has no defense against Russia’s submarine-based Poseiden nuclear bombs, which could trigger tsunamis that would overwhelm its coastal cities, or its air-based hypersonic missiles, which could evade U.S. missile defenses on their way to destroying U.S. cities.
U.S. military analysts believe that Russia is capable of destroying all major U.S. cities and that the United States could potentially do the same to Russia. Here lies another advantage for Russia, whose “scorched-earth” military strategy defeated the Swedes under Charles XII when they invaded in the 18th century, the French under Napoleon in the 19th century, and the Germans under Adolf Hitler in the 20th century. Unlike the United States, whose conduct in Vietnam, Somalia, Beirut, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan has led military analysts to believe it has no stomach for casualties, the Russians see as heroic their ability to bear immense hardship—its willingness to abandon Moscow to Napoleon’s army remains a symbol of its indomitability.
If Russia resorts to a tactical nuclear weapon, an all-out nuclear war is unlikely to happen because the United States—not Russia—is bluffing in its claim of retaliation. But Russia is unlikely to use a tactical nuclear weapon because it is confident of victory—Ukraine’s recent recoveries of territory came of massively outnumbering Russia’s military, a failing Russia plans to remedy by a call-up of reserves that will triple its forces facing Ukraine’s military.
The threat of nuclear war is nevertheless real amid continuing attempts to push Putin to the brink. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently argued that NATO should preemptively strike Russia to “exclude the possibility of use of nuclear weapons by Russia,” and U.S. military hawks beat a perpetual drumbeat.
All bets are now off. “The idea of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, has become a subject of debate,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres admitted after Putin’s “this is not a bluff” warning. Russia’s nuclear superiority, national pride, and willingness to suffer hardship allow it to consider nuclear war both thinkable and winnable.
Read the original article in full at the publisher’s website here
Patricia Adams and Lawrence Solomon are directors at the Toronto-based Probe International.
Categories: By Patricia Adams and Lawrence Solomon, geopolitics, Uncategorized
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