Putin Nukes UK: Does The West Need To Stop Humanitarian Wars?
I was at the dentist today, and my hygienist casually dropped that he is vacationing in Norway next week. I drily cracked that he postponed the trip because of COVID only to pick a doozy of a time to go in view of the Nord Stream Pipeline crisis. We both laughed.
Russian President Vladmir Putin is threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine – a threat that has rapidly grown to be a more real possibility over the past couple of months. Putin’s latest threat, however, carries a much more serious implication. He referenced the United States’ use of nuclear bombs against Japan in World War II as an international precedent on when the use of nuclear weapons are justified. Why is Putin so concerned about justifying himself now?
The tide of war is turning in Ukraine. Russian forces have suffered massive casualties, and they have failed to achieve the political objectives that Putin set for them. Putin has lost the propaganda war before the entire world. He faces a much more serious problem now. Russian forces are rapidly losing men, machines, and ground in Ukraine. A military defeat would be disastrous for Putin’s continued reign over Russia, and that defeat grows more likely every day as the Ukrainians inflict more and more massive casualties on their invaders.
Objectively viewed, Putin’s reference to nuclear precedent is fair. The United States’ justification for the use of atomic bombs against Japan during World War II was to save the lives of United States soldiers. War planners estimated that up to 1 million Allied soldiers would die in the conquest of Japan. Faced with such an estimate, President Harry Truman made the decision to use nuclear weapons in an effort to end the war instead of using them tactically as U.S. planners had initially contemplated.
Putin’s threatened use of nuclear weapons is objectively for the same reason. Russia is engaged in a war where its future casualties promise to be extremely heavy. He functionally faces two choices. Admit defeat and give up or deploy a technological advantage to turn the tide of war. The most effective remaining technological advantage are tactical nuclear weapons.
The fundamental difference is that the United States operated in a war-weary world in which the Allies had won the propaganda war. Hitler’s Nazi Germany was indisputably evil and a territorial aggressor. Hirohito’s Japan also waged a war of aggression. 5 years of a global struggle for national survival minimized the sheer gravity of using nuclear weapons against Japan, and concern for humanity took a back seat to ending the war decisively in the Allies’ favor. Putin, however, is the aggressor, and he operates in a world where a global concern for human rights trumps even national interests. His justification for using nuclear weapons is, at its core, the same as the United States’ justification, but such use will cause another global conflict – a World War III.
The supremacy of a global concern for human rights over national interests in the policy-making context is a dangerous and shallow reason for starting World War III. Outrage will replace sound decision-making, and national interests will have little to no voice at the West’s table. Decisions made in the heat of outrage are rarely wise or sound, and the interventionist-humanitarian war theory that the West has tied itself to may plunge the world into a war that could result in many more dead than if Putin just uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
The West should not deceive itself about its chances in a global nuclear conflict. No politician – right or left, Republican or Democrat – has the moxy to win a war of that nature. Instead, Western governments will suffer a faux moral paralysis over whether it should proactively engage in all-out nuclear war. Limited military action of the kind that the West favors will not win that type of war. While we may all like to trust our military and its missile defense systems, no system is perfect, and I wouldn’t be confident that it could completely protect us in the event of an all-out nuclear war.
He who strikes first with all-out force has the best chance of surviving such a global nuclear conflict in my view. My money would be on Russia and China. The West will still be debating the morality of all-out war while Russia and China’s nuclear missiles are in the air and inbound.