The risk of nuclear war with Russia has been imminent since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. While the United States hasn’t made any public statements relating to the crisis, Vladimir Putin’s latest threats of nuclear attack have President Biden declaring that there exists a “prospect of Armageddon.”
In Putin’s recent declaration to the West, he warned of the use of tactical nuclear and biochemical weapons in an attempt to strengthen the Russian military. Putin further proclaimed that the United States set a precedent with its decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, and if necessary, he will act accordingly.
In light of the recent threats, Biden communicated one of the crucial lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis: to avoid placing Russia in a position where it has little choice but to use its weapons.
In order to placate Putin, President Biden had tried to find an “off-ramp.” In a speech given by Biden largely on domestic initiatives and other issues crucial to the midterm elections, he inquired of Putin, “Where, where does he get off? Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself in a position that he does not – not only lose face, but lose significant power within Russia?” These questions have not yet been resolved, and it is unclear whether Putin is seeking a means of egress from the conflict beyond total victory.
However, being the first person on the administration team to talk opening about preventing a nuclear war, President Biden was criticized by many for his remarks. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sharply criticized Biden’s comments on the Fox News channel, saying his remarks “were reckless” and “a terrible risk to the American people.” John Kirby, a leading Pentagon spokesman, responded to Biden’s remarks in an interview with Martha Raddatz on ABC News by stating that they weren’t founded on any particularly new knowledge. Kirby said, “His comments were not based on new or fresh intelligence or new indications that Mr. Putin has made a decision to use nuclear weapons… we [haven’t] seen anything that would give us pause to reconsider our own strategic nuclear posture.”
One of the potential “off-ramps” for the crisis is to have the countries neighboring to Russia make compromises regarding NATO expansion. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin has grown increasingly frustrated with the United States’ involvement and support of NATO expansion in former Soviet states. One of Putin’s systematic demands is for NATO to not conduct “provocative exercises” on near its borders, and for NATO to sign a treaty bringing the alliance between the former states and Russia back to where it was in the late 1990s. Many Eastern European countries, unwilling to please Putin’s territorial objectives, expressed their support for NATO more than ever. Yet, numerous Western European officials demonstrated interest in considering pulling back on exercises, even temporarily. The Biden administration also delayed any plans that might be construed as unnecessary and/or provocative.
All these tactics would only be temporary, however, and it is evident that Putin wants NATO’s position to change permanently. Many officials assert that he is unlikely to cease with his nuclear threats if Russian territorial expansion in Ukraine remains stagnant.
By Catherine Cummings