By John LaForge
Is it possible that all the press about the highly elevated the risk of nuclear weapons being detonated in Ukraine is a lot of smoke? US political and military leaders have downplayed the risk of nuclear attacks in Ukraine many times.
The United States, Russia, France, China, and the United Kingdom possess most of the world’s nuclear weapons. Last January 3rd, these five states jointly declared, “We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Consequently the five governments should be racing to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and to redirect the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on nuclearism after defunding their vast nuclear weapons infrastructures.
Instead, most are spending enormous sums on expanding their nuclear arsenals, and publicly announcing plans for the “first use” of the devices under certain conditions. The spending and strategies flatly contradict their public pledge that nuclear weapons can’t win anything and must never be used.
Yet it is possible that the military and political authorities in control of nuclear weapons know they must not explode them. It could be that nuclear attack planners understand that the effects of such detonations boomerang and bite back, poisoning and killing their own forces, contaminating the sought-after territories and that of neutral states.
The White House, the Pentagon and other experts have repeatedly assured the world they don’t think nuclear attacks are likely.
November 30:“Why Zelensky thinks Putin won’t use nukes on Ukraine” (Axios)
November 2: “US sees no indications Russia readying nuclear weapons, White House says.” (Reuters)
October 24: “No indication Russia has decided to use nuclear weapon in Ukraine, says senior US official.” (The Guardian & Financial Times)
October 9: “White House Sees No Indication Russia Is Preparing Nuclear Attack After Biden’s ‘Armageddon’ Warning.” (Forbes)
October 9: “…the White House emphasized on Friday that the United States has seen no signs that Russia is gearing up to use nuclear weapons.” (New York Times)
October 9: “Pentagon spokesperson tamps down concerns over nuclear ‘Armageddon.’” (The Guardian)
October 7: “Pentagon: No sign Putin is planning to use nukes after Biden’s ‘Armageddon’ comment.” (Politico)
Sept. 30: “US has not seen acts indicating Russia contemplating nuclear attack.” (Reuters)
Sept. 28:“US believes it’s unlikely Putin will use a nuclear weapon but threat has ‘elevated.’” (CNN)
Sept. 24: “The US says Russia isn’t preparing to use nuclear weapons, yet.” (New York Times)
Sept. 16: “I don’t see Putin using nuclear weapons” [says] British military strategist Sir Lawrence Freedman. (Euromaidan Press)
When asked about it on October 28, 2022 before the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow, even Russian President Vladimir Putin himself made clear that it’s useless to detonate nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Putin answered, “There is no point in that, neither political, nor military.”
The truly terrifying threat from nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war is the risk of an accidental or unintentional detonation. Nearby nuclear weapons are in the hands of Russia, France, Britain, and the United States, which deploy them on submarines, bombers, fighter jets and in “nuclear sharing” with NATO members Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey — which station US B61 H-bombs at six separate bases. Computer glitches, false alarms, mistakes identifying shooters (as happened November 15 when Ukraine blamed Russia in error for a blast caused by one its own air-defense missiles striking Poland), or panicked commanders misreading communications, could all lead to catastrophe; a good reason to demand universal denuclearization.
The other truly consequential nuclear threats in Ukraine stem from the country’s 15 operational nuclear power reactors, those sitting-duck time bombs in this first-ever reactors-in-a-war zone conflict. These radiation grenades with their pins ready to be pulled should spark global anti-nuclear militancy — as did the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe in the same place 36 years ago.
— A version of this opinion ran at Counterpunch.org on November 21, and at L.A. Progressive December 2, 2022