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HomeGeopolitical CompassEurope, Russia, OceaniaWhy the War in Ukraine Won’t Go Nuclear

Why the War in Ukraine Won’t Go Nuclear

Author: Gideon Rose

Affiliation: Council on Foreign Relations, Former Editor for Foreign Affairs (2010-2021)

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: April 25, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 1962



Keywords:  Ukraine, Russia, Conflict, Korean War, Nuclear Weapons




Ukraine has had to limit its war strategy with Russia as there is a nuclear option that can be used. The Ukrainian war is proceeding how any war would be going in the nuclear era—following the old rules but with a new phase.  The author explains why there hasn’t been a use of nuclear weapons in the Ukrainian war. As powerful as nuclear weapons are, able to destroy many regions in the blink of an eye, the damage they afflict would escalate conflicts more than solving and clearing issues in wars. This risk-averse approach has appeared several times. The first opportunity for two-sided nuclear war occurred in the Korean peninsula, where the two sides and their supporters didn’t want to exercise the nuclear option or attack the other’s territory, but instead contained the war to the peninsula itself where it proceeded as a brutal and prolonged classical war. Since then, subsequent wars in different regions have followed this practical tactic of “un-nuclear war”, which we are now seeing in the Ukrainian war. Even though Russia has tried several times to seize all of Ukraine in different ways, there has been no nuclear intervention. The author suggests that the conflict end in a negotiated way, or it will end with a frozen conflict between the armies’ line of contact in the east; he adds an alert to Russia, that because it chose a hot war it will receive in return a cold war. Furthermore, while NATO will not be taking any direct actions against Russia to avoid any escalation that can further harm Ukraine, it will be for the best for Biden’s administration to help Ukraine to end this conflict quickly. The author mentions that “Avoidance in the face of genuine mortal threats” was the only reason politicians saw the nuclear weapons as useful. And with all the developments that have since occurred, the only usage for nuclear weapons is preventing large-scale attacks on those who possess them. The author says that Putin will not use his nuclear arsenal, as he understands the consequences would be “extraordinary retaliation…with no remotely comparable strategic upsides to justify them—not to mention the fact that the radioactive fallout from such use might easily blow back onto Russia itself.” He ends the article by pointing out that the great powers will avoid a third war to enjoy a long peace, but that if we were in the bad old days with what is happening now in the Ukraine conflict—and combined with other changes in powers like the US being in decline and China rising—it would lead to a horrible universal war.


By: Sohaila Oraby, CIGA Research Assistant



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