Vladimir Putin’s decision not to send tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus to be deployed forward has been widely reported around the globe. However, forward-basing nuclear weapons is of limited military value.
Intercontinental ballistic Missiles are capable of virtually unlimited range. Therefore, forward-deploying nuclear weapons on Belarus territory is not a military necessity.
It acts symbolically as a “shield” against nuclear attack in Belarus.
The primary benefit of this is to keep the threat of nuclear conflict at the forefront for Western leaders, in order to discourage continued western military support for Ukraine.
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NATO called this threat “dangerous Russian rhetoric”. The US response was more optimistic. They didn’t see any indications that Putin planned to deploy or use nuclear weapons.
This appears to be Putin’s further sabre-rattling, but at what price? The Boy Who Cried Wolf, in Aesop’s Tales, gave many false alarms. He was so unable to believe when he said the truth.
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Although it is a horrible concept, Mutually Assured Destruction has helped to deter war between nuclear countries. Non-proliferation agreements were made to prevent such weapons from falling into “wrong hands”. However, it was never imagined that nuclear states could use their status to invade other non-nuclear countries.
Russia would be able to win with this strategy and other nations like China, North Korea, and the rest of the world would feel empowered. The only security guarantee would be nuclear weapons, which would increase tensions between “haves” versus “have-nots.”
Putin’s invasion in Ukraine is not going according to plan and he will do everything possible to stop the West providing (potentially decisive military support).
Global security could be at risk if a nuclear-armed bully wins.
The Ukraine’s spring offensive could pose a threat to Russian-occupied Crimea, which is of historical importance for Putin.
Putin, who has threatened to launch a nuclear war against Ukraine for the past year but was supported by the West unabatedly, is expected to intensify his nuclear rhetoric and possibly bring his nuclear weapons into readiness, as happened in the Cuban missile crises in October 1962.
The US military at DEFCON 2 eventually prevailed.
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China and India have so far avoided any criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but they have all condemned any attempt at nuclear escalation. Putin will be aware that nuclear escalation could lead to further international isolation. However, the war in Ukraine is very personal to him and he enjoys brinkmanship.
To be clear, Putin could not imagine using nuclear weapons in preemptive situations – he has too many to lose. However, Putin can continue to escalate his alarming rhetoric to pursue battlefield success. China, North Korea, and others will be closely watching to see how the West handles this new challenge. The legacy of this conflict could prove to be devastating.
Putin has made it clear that he intends to keep the threat from nuclear war at the forefront this conflict. But he might decide that he must do more than just shout “Wolf!” to reach his goals.