Russia’s Vladimir Putin will soon use nuclear weapons unless stopped in time. The risk is not “low.” His oft-repeated principle is that if war is inevitable, strike first. He sees war with the West as now inevitable. Here’s why.
Putin recognizes that despite greatly increasing the size of his floundering army, smaller tactical nuclear weapons will be needed to defeat Ukraine. He knows that their use, even if it were a one-off to try to bully the West and Ukraine to cede Ukrainian territory, would provoke a massive overwhelming conventional Western military response with superior arms.
Because he sees use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as essential to victory, war with the West is inevitable. To brace his people, he tasked Foreign Minister Lavrov with announcing at the United Nations that NATO and the West were out to destroy Russia. Russian doctrine specifically allows, if not requires, Russia to use nuclear weapons if Russia is faced with an existential threat. Putin’s phony referenda also will make parts of Ukraine purported Russian territory. He has announced that all available means will be used to defend Russian territory.
The West must anticipate that Putin could simultaneously employ one or more tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine and use a strategic nuclear bomb to destroy at least one European capital. Or he may do worse. He would then dare the West and the world to engage in a nuclear exchange threatening world destruction. No wonder a former KGB agent recently lamented on CNN that the Ukraine war is “close to getting out of hand.”
The West ignores what Putin has said at its peril. He must be stopped now to prevent any use of nuclear weapons, but how? America has faced a similar brink before.
In 1973, Henry Kissinger and President Nixon ordered American forces to Defcon III (Defense Condition III) when the Soviet Union was about to intervene in the Yom Kippur War that erupted when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. Their initial successful advances in the Sinai and the Golan Heights put Israel’s existence at risk. At great risk, Israel surprised Egypt by crossing the Suez Canal into Egypt, bottling up Egyptian troops in the Sinai, and threatening Egyptian cities. Egypt faced catastrophic defeat while Israel also counterattacked in the Golan Heights.
Faced with imminent Soviet intervention to save Egypt and turn the tide against Israel, America did not hesitate. Defcon III put our nuclear-armed units on high alert; the 82nd Airborne’s troops readied to board aircraft for deployment; U.S. aircraft carriers headed toward the eastern Mediterranean. The next step would be Defcon II to alert our nuclear forces for imminent use. Faced with nuclear war, the Soviets promptly backed off.
This and the situation on the ground then allowed for a negotiated settlement acceptable to all.
Restrictions on Ukraine’s use of Western arms to attack Russia proper should be removed. The West should support Ukraine’s immediately invading Russia proper on a limited basis to get behind and trap Russian troops in eastern and southern Ukraine.
If Putin has not done so before then, Ukraine’s limited invasion into Russia would likely put Russian nuclear forces on alert, which Western Intelligence apparently can promptly detect. Whenever Russia’s nuclear forces go on alert, America should go to Defcon III and be prepared to go further. This will present Russia with the choice that confronted the Soviets in 1973. To avoid world catastrophe, China and India can be expected to help pressure Russian leaders to back down. Putin will be undermined.
Negotiations can then be fruitful. Facing surrender or destruction, Russian forces in Ukraine will withdraw from all Ukrainian land, including Crimea, but Russia can insist that Ukrainian forces in Russia likewise withdraw back to Ukraine, along with some form of assurances that Ukraine and the West are not interested in destroying Russia, thereby saving some face.
This war must end before nukes are used.
It is essential that this Yom Kippur strategy be implemented without delay as the best of bad options to avoid any use of nuclear arms, prevent a world catastrophe, and conclude the war promptly through negotiations.
Daniel O. Jamison is a retired attorney in Fresno.