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Putin’s Doomsday Threat

Author: Graham Allison

Affiliation: Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: April 5, 2022/New York, USA

Type of Literature: Analysis

Word Count: 2980

Link: https://fam.ag/3KirU5p

 

Keywords: Ukraine, Russia, USA, Kennedy, Nuclear, Cuban Missile Crisis

Brief:

 

Ukraine has turned into a war that Putin cannot afford to lose without risking his regime and even his life, so the war is “entering a new, darker, and more dangerous phase.” In other words, will Putin consider the use of nuclear weapons? This article attempts to answer this question from the perspective of the US’s diplomatic efforts in the historical backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis. As the famous crisis shows, escalation towards a nuclear winter can be surprisingly quick, where one should ask what more the Biden administration can do without risking such catastrophic outcomes. As it stands, the US has imposed the most comprehensive package of sanctions the world has ever seen, and is extensively supplying Ukraine with arms. The Biden administration is aware that Moscow’s national security may involve the use of nuclear weapons in certain circumstances even if the other side has not used or threatened to use them, which is a strategy called “escalate to de-escalate” that employs “tactical” nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, in the author’s view the current situation is unlikely to devolve into a Cuban missile crisis-like scenario for two reasons: First, Putin has gone to great lengths not to threaten Washington’s national interests; Second, Biden has been determined from the outset not to trigger a wider war. In fact, Biden’s de-escalation position falls in line with many presidents before him, most notably Bush’s stance on Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. Kennedy’s speech in the wake of the crisis provides some insight on what the Biden’s administration can do: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.” In other words, Biden must avoid putting Putin in this position. Finally, the article speaks of Kennedy’s imaginative three-component plan, through which he managed to avert the crisis, stressing that “the United States and its allies will need even more imagination than Kennedy and his advisors did in 1962. But as Biden and his team rise to this challenge, they can find inspiration in JFK’s finest hour.”

 

By: Hamza Emir, CIGA Research Assistant

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