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Home Articles Flashpoints UKRAINE WAR MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO ESCALATE TO NUCLEAR WAR

UKRAINE WAR MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO ESCALATE TO NUCLEAR WAR

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 UKRAINE MEMO FRI 25 FEB 2022

 

PEOPLE FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT

HUMAN SURVIVAL PROJECT

 

UKRAINE WAR MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO ESCALATE TO NUCLEAR WAR

 

A NUCLEAR WAR CANNOT BE WON AND MUST NEVER BE FOUGHT

 

Terrible as the unprovoked, unjustified, invasion of Ukraine by Russia – an invasion we hoped against hope would never take place, an invasion that even after months of warning still feels impossible when it doesn’t grip the gut with sheer terror – terrible and shocking as that is, (and in a large part contributing to its terror) – is the possibility that this invasion might escalate to global thermonuclear war. And it really could do so.

 

Wider war between Russia and NATO forces – war involving NATO allies or NATO governments such as Poland, the Baltic States, or Hungary – could very easily escalate from a war involving purely conventional forces, to one involving first tactical, and finally strategic, nuclear forces. While all concerned – even Putin – might concede that nuclear war serves no rational purpose, indeed that 'A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought', an incremental escalation has its own momentum that defies rationality. The mere fact that no one plans to fight a nuclear war over Ukraine does NOT mean it cannot happen. Nor however does it mean that it WILL happen. That is up to us and the decisions we make.

 

On Thursday, white house spokes Jen Psaki said:

We don’t see any increased threat in that regard at the present time,”

https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/russia-ukraine-latest-news

 

This ought to be a bit reassuring and it is. However the white house isn’t the only nor necessarily even the most important decision-maker. Reports have been circulating on Twitter from the DEFCON group that the US military has raised its DEFCON from 4 to 3. The same group however, has said Russian alert status has NOT been raised. This again is mildly reassuring. 

 

Mr Putin's nuclear exercises barely a week back convey a quite different message – one of nuclear threat. Even if the one making the threat does not wish to carry it out, the very making of the threat sets in motion wheels on both sides that make fingers more twitchy over keys and buttons. 

 

Putin has on a number of occasions made statements that make such an escalation all the more credible.

 

In his speech on Russian state TV Putin said:

 

Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country

and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.”

 

In case that wasn’t clear enough he added: “As for the military sphere, modern Russia, even after the collapse of the USSR and the loss of a significant part of its nuclear potential, is today one of the most powerful nuclear powers. And moreover, it has certain advantages in a number of the latest types of weapons. In this regard, no one should have any doubt that a direct attack on Russia will lead to defeat and dire consequences for a potential aggressor.”

 

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2022/02/24/war-in-europe-00011319?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=812402397b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_12_12_02_16_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-812402397b-199326173

 

These are the words – words that during the communist regime, no one dared to utter because the fear of nuclear war was taken so seriously – that, potentially, pave the way for nuclear war. That they can be uttered now suggests we have forgotten the fear that rightly gripped us during the cold war. We need to remember that fear and act to remove its basis. 

 

How could nuclear war happen in the current situation?

 

--Even without specific NATO involvement, Russia has deployed a number of mobile Iskander nuclear-capable missiles. We assume that those deployed in and around Ukraine are NOT in fact, nuclear – tipped. But we don't know for sure the status of any specific missile launch vehicle.

 

But could a NATO military officer who thought one was coming his way make that assumption with certainty? The Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, as far as we know, ARE nuclear tipped.

 

Assuming a wider, Russia-NATO conflict, would Putin operationalise his threat?

 

What would NATO commanders assume then, if they saw an Iskander warhead coming in their direction?

 

Would they assume instead that what was coming at them WAS a tactical nuclear warhead with a yield something between 100 and 500Kt? OR would they assume it was conventional?

 

If hostilities widened to include Poland and (and thereby all of NATO), and if Russian forces in Kaliningrad were surrounded (as they would be) would they think 'Use them or lose them', and devastate east central Europe with Iskanders? (with a body count between 40 and 100million including possibly my own beloved who is currently in Poland).

 

What would be the NATO riposte, as much of the entire population of Poland Germany, the Baltics, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, ...died and their cities burned?

 

A reminder. There is a good reason that not so long ago, Putin and Biden signed on to a statement in Geneva, that 'A Nuclear War Cannot be Won and Must never be Fought'.

 

That statement, too often dismissed as meaningless boilerplate, is literally true.

 

A global strategic nuclear war between Russia, with roughly 4,500 deployed nuclear weapons and the US/NATO with slightly fewer, would

--Kill much of the worlds population in roughly an hour and a half.

--Convert many of the worlds largest cities into firestorms that would burn till nothing was left, lofting 150 million tonnes of very black smoke into the upper stratosphere

--Fry the worlds electronic infrastructure on which so much of our lives now depends in its first nanoseconds

--Leave survivors (of whom there would be few in the US, Russia, NATO member countries and China, and not very many even in countries nominally uninvolved) – to freeze in the semi-dark for the next few decades without productive agriculture – which would mean starvation.

--Bring about extinction for a majority of the worlds living species.

 

No possible set of political goals, no possible values to protect, can justify this.

 

Ultimately, this is what is at stake in this conflict.

 

There are ways out. Even now, Putin, Biden, and Stoltenberg could agree never to use nuclear weapons no matter what else took place between them.

 

They could reaffirm the Geneva statement that 'A Nuclear war Cannot be on and Must never be Fought'. Such a reaffirmation right now would indeed be helpful.

 

They could agree never to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

 

They could agree that 'theological' statements (from either side) in which during a nuclear exchange, the citizens of one side would be 'raptured to heaven' while the other side would go to the other place are themselves false, and indeed utterly diabolical. 

 

In the longer term they could agree to eliminate them altogether.

 

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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