Ukraine fighting fuels elite chatter about nuclear war

National security advocates and wonks babble about the possibility of nuclear war in Ukraine.

“NATO, and the US in particular, must now prepare for harrowing decisions after a Russian [nuclear] First strike,” reads a March 23 article in Bloomberg, adding:

Once these weapons—the deadliest in all of human history, regardless of their effect—start detonating, the risk of misunderstanding, mistakes, and accidents increases. A “limited” hit from one side will still feel disastrous to the other. And the missiles are flying so fast that the other side would only have a few minutes to react. The temptation to “use it or lose it” would increase.

“In the fog of war, it is not difficult to imagine an accident or miscommunication triggering a scenario similar to that of World War III,” a March 8 said New York Times Items.

“The longer this war goes on, the more dangerous it becomes,” wrote David Ignatius on March 17 Washington Post. He continued:

Russia will bleed dry on the corpses of its invaders and the ruin of its economy. The world will cheer. But as this process continues, it becomes more likely that a desperate Putin will escalate this crisis into a world war. A combination of military pressure and diplomacy that urges Putin to reach an agreement is in everyone’s interest. Compromises will be agonizing but necessary.

On March 22 a New York Times op ed warned:

Take care of these little ones [nuclear] Armaments have skyrocketed after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of his nuclear power in the context of the war in Ukraine, put his nuclear forces on alert and ordered his army to carry out dangerous attacks on nuclear power plants. The fear is that if Putin feels cornered in the conflict, he may decide to detonate one of his less powerful nuclear weapons (which would break the taboo set 76 years ago after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings became).

“As Russia digs in, what is the risk of nuclear war? ‘It’s Not Zero,'” read the headline of another New York Times Items.

Amid the drama, emotion and risk, President Joe Biden’s team has both escalated and de-escalated the conflict over Ukraine’s Russian-populated provinces.

It refused to enforce the US post-Cold War commitment to keep Ukraine out of NATO. After Russia attacked, it deployed Javelin missiles to destroy Russian tanks. As Russia shifts to increased artillery fire, the US deploys long-range missiles capable of destroying Russian artillery. It also imposes an economic blockade on Russi and describes Russian officials War criminal.

But Biden’s team is also blocking the transfer of Polish MiG-29 planes to Ukraine, dismissing calls to enforce a no-fly zone and downplaying European calls for more action.

The conflict revolves around the political status of Ukraine.

Progressive advocates in the West are demanding that the country be free to join NATO and buy foreign arms. Russian officials insist that Ukraine is a historic province of Russia’s homeland, that an independent Ukraine should be excluded from alliances, and that Russian-populated districts in Ukraine should be returned to Russia. The Russian invasion began after Western governments repeatedly indicated that Ukraine could join NATO and would not have to accept Russia’s political terms.

It’s unclear if Biden’s team is urging Ukraine to compromise with Russia, such as forgoing alliances and allowing independence for the Russian-majority eastern provinces.

But opponents of Putin are urging the US government to escalate the US pushback against Putin. For example, a longtime opponent of Trump and Putin, Anne Applebaum, wrote The Atlantic Magazine:

Putin and his propagandists drop hints about chemical and nuclear weapons for the same reason. They want outsiders, especially Americans, to fear the consequences of helping Ukraine. The use of hypersonic weapons; the threats of nuclear war on Russian television; even the habit established a few years ago of practicing the use of nuclear weapons at military exercises, sometimes to simulate a hit on Warsaw, sometimes to simulate a bomb exploding in mid-air – all of this has a purpose…

There is only one rule: we must not be afraid. Russia wants us to be afraid – so afraid that we are paralyzed with fear, that we cannot make decisions, that we withdraw altogether and leave the way open for a Russian conquest of Ukraine and eventually Poland or even further into Europe . Putin remembers very well a time when Soviet troops controlled the eastern half of Germany. But the threat to these countries will not diminish if Russia carries out massacres in Ukraine. it will grow

Instead of fear, let’s focus on a Ukrainian victory. Once we understand that’s the goal, we can start thinking about how to achieve it, whether through temporary boycotts of Russian gas, oil, and coal; military exercises elsewhere in the world that will distract Russian troops; humanitarian air bridges on the scale of Berlin in 1948; or more and better weapons.

Applebaum’s martial article prompted criticismbut there are other belligerent calls to action, despite the threat of nuclear war.

Former President Donald Trump proposed on March 21 that the US federal government tout its armed forces with nuclear-missile submarines to counter any Russian threat to use nuclear weapons if its invasion of Ukraine is blocked.

“I listened to him keep using the N-word,” Trump told Fox News, likely referring to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He continued:

That’s the N-word. And he uses it all the time, the nuclear word… We say, “Oh, he’s a nuclear power.” But we’re a bigger nuclear power. We have the largest submarines, the most powerful machines in the world ever built and were built under me. The most powerful machines ever built and no one knows where they are. And you should say, ‘Look, if you mention that word again, we’ll send you over, we’ll drive back and forth, up and down your coast.’

“We have brand new stuff that is immensely powerful and we hope to God you never need it because that would be the tragedy of tragedies. But if we didn’t have it, we couldn’t talk,” Trump said.

Trump’s nuclear threat came as he urged more military aid:

He’s killing thousands and thousands of people… What he’s doing is a human tragedy. In a way, this may have never happened before, but it certainly has since the Second World War. If you look at it, but there’s never been anything like it… You can’t let this tragedy continue. You can’t let these thousands of people die. There will be hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of people when it ends.

Trump also pushed for more military aid to Ukraine, although Ukraine’s use of US weapons could spur mentions of nuclear weapons by Russian officials:

We have drones that are as effective as almost anything in the air, anything you can do in the air. And you can use drones, and they return tremendous amounts of intel, and the intel guides missiles straight to any damn target from Ukraine, so you’re neutral. It’s so ridiculous.

On March 22, a Russian official hinted at the use of nuclear weapons if the Ukrainian government does not abandon its Russian-dominated eastern districts, CNN reported:

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, [spokesman] Dmitry Peskov has repeatedly refused to rule out that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons against what Moscow saw as an “existential threat.” When asked under what conditions [Vladimir] Putin would use Russia’s nuclear capabilities, Peskov replied, “if it’s an existential threat to our country, then it can be.”

The United States condemned Peskov’s “dangerous” statements. “This is not how a responsible nuclear power should act,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.

But there are also a growing number of people speaking out against escalating measures that could trigger a catastrophic nuclear war over the political status of Ukraine’s little-known eastern provinces.

A protester holds a placard as he takes part in a rally in Trafalgar Square, central London March 5, 2022 to show his support for Ukraine and to protest the Russian invasion of the country. (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

“The Russian military is a paper tiger: poor supplies, poor equipment and poor training compared to its Western opponents,” reads an article on “Using a nuclear threat gives Russia leverage in a liberal world order that it cannot keep pace with… Russia’s nuclear arsenal is its trump card,” she said, adding:

Current coverage of the crisis in Ukraine portrays the aggression as sheer irrationality, despite over a decade of international political developments that foreshadowed Russia’s strategy against western expansion. Ukraine is a strategic buffer between Russia and the West. The existence of a pro-Western Ukraine poses a significant security threat to Russia.

“Western cartoons explicitly compare Putin to Adolf Hitler. And you don’t negotiate with Nazis. The consequences are devastating. Anyone who lived during the Cold War or knows anything about the nuclear stakes should be wary of aggravating conflicts,” reads a May 22 article in

“While conflict does involve great sacrifice and heroism, and certainly much evil, such stories simplify a complex reality and speak against caution. We can be too easily persuaded that dangerous wars are just and necessary, and that even great casualties are sacrifices worth sacrificing,” the essay states.

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