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 SAT 29 JAN 2022









As at least the potential threat of uncontrolled escalation to nuclear war looms over the Russia-Ukraine-US-NATO crisis, President Zelensky has injected a modicum of sorely needed calm into the situation by saying that he doesn't think Russia intends to invade his country at least not tomorrow, and that there remains room for negotiation.


Oddly, but strangely reassuringly, his statements seem almost to echo those of the Russian Governments Lavrov, protesting that no, they don't intend to invade.


It is a strange inversion of what we are accustomed to see, with each side hyping the evil intentions of the other side.


It provides a small window of opportunity for calm reassessment, de-escalation, and above all for a step back from any nuclear brink.


Because there is real and well-placed concern over the possibility that military confrontation in the Ukraine could(could, not WILL) escalate, via extended conventional conflict, maybe via conflict involving the whole of NATO, into the use of tactical nuclear weapons.


A recent article in Politico outlines such concerns:



Robert Reich in Eurasia Review also opines:



This author has made the same point previously:





Russia has itself accused NATO, again not without foundation, of preparing nuclear strikes:



Indeed, this is in many ways central to Russia's gripe against NATO. According to Lavrov:

The main issue is our clear position on the unacceptability of further NATO expansion to the east and the deployment of highly-destructive weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,”


The Pentagon itself is concerned enough over whether Russia has deployed tactical nuclear weapons to have itself deployed spy planes with the mission to find out.



It is indeed tactical nukes that are at the heart of the matter. Much alarm was created a few days ago with reports that Russia had deployed/is deploying Iskander missiles in Belarus and close to Ukraine.







What is not clear from these reports is whether these missiles are conventionally, or nuclear, armed.


Iskander missiles are usually thought of as being tactical nuclear weapons. However, they CAN be conventionally armed.


While we may presume and hope that most of these missiles have a conventional, rather than a tactical nuclear role, we do not in fact know for sure whether or not they do.


Iskander missiles are also stationed in Kaliningrad. It has been widely assumed that these are nuclear.


This means that, should armed conflict become widespread, and in particular should it spread beyond Ukraine itself, the possibility at least, however 'remote' (and I do not believe it can be described as 'remote') exists, that it can escalate to use of tactical (= 500Km range) 'battlefield' nuclear weapons.(i.e. Iskander missiles)


The widespread use of 500Km range nuclear missiles in central/eastern Europe would devastate Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, and of course western Russia.


Tens of millions of people including my many dear Polish friends could die.


And the use of tactical nuclear weapons would be very likely to proceed to the use of strategic nuclear weapons, including land – based ICBMs and submarine based SLBMs.


At that point, probably at the point where nuclear explosions take place in outer space, contemporary hi-tech civilisation would cease to function and we'd zip back to the 18thcentury as EMP crippled our communications and fried our electronics.


However we'd not have too much time to enjoy the 18thcentury as our cities would become firestorms, killing most of us within less than an hour.


And a pitiful remnant would be left to eke out an existence in a cold dark world.


I am not saying this is what WILL take place. God forbid. Only that if enough things go wrong, if enough monstrously stupid decisions are taken, that this is what COULD take place. But there is ample precedent.


It is well to note at this point that there is a single measure that if implemented by either the US or Russia or both would make the above event sequence almost completely impossible.


That would be to implement policies of No First Use. If both sides refuse to use nuclear weapons first, then nuclear weapons will not be used.


A letter was recently (24 Jan) sent to the heads of all nuclear weapons states urging the adoption of No First Usepolicies:



The real possibility of escalation to nuclear war, however 'remote' (and it is not 'remote'), does suggest that there is a descending ladder of priorities with respect to Ukraine decision-making:


--Ensure that there is no way hostilities can escalate to nuclear war.

--Ensure that all options are NOTon the table.

--Ensure any military operations remain limited to Ukraine

--Ensure any military operations remain as limited as possible, preferably to a tiny corner of someplace over which a ceasefire can speedily be concluded. 

--Ensure there are no military operations at all, and that solutions at least sufficient to avert overt military operations, however grudgingly agreed on and however temporary and unsatisfactory, are worked out.

--Ensure that however unsatisfactorily, everyone concerned (ie, Russia, Putin, as well as Ukraine and NATO) are treated with respect and treat each other with respect. Marginalising or refusing to talk to ANY player is unhelpful in seeking longer term solutions.

--Initiate long term and ongoing negotiations over both Russia-NATO security relationships and over ongoing other relationships including natural gas and other mutually advantageous commodities.


This is not the work of a moment.


However if we can draw back from the brink of catastrophe,(the immediate priority) and do so in a way that lets us descend the next wobbly step down the ladder of descending consequences and rising hopes, we will still be around to work on it.


John Hallam

Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner 

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

Co-Convenor, Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group

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