The risk of nuclear escalation growing from the current Russian war in Ukraine has prompted considerable debate among experts and media commentators. Some dismiss the concern about a possible Russian first use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as a surrender of NATO initiative to Russian President Vladamir Putin. According to this logic, instead of reacting to Putin’s veiled and explicit threats, the United States and NATO should remind Russia of American and NATO capabilities to respond with overwhelming force to any Russian nuclear first use in Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe.
Dismissing Putin’s nuclear saber rattling as a ploy to manipulate NATO and world opinion, however, would be a mistake. The likelihood of a deliberate or miscalculated escalation to nuclear first use is now as great, or greater, than it was during the fateful Cuban missile crisis of 1962. This is so for a number of reasons, explained below.
The above excerpt was originally published in Just Security.
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