Robert C. Castel

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Robert C. Castel: „DON’T, DON’T, DON’T”

The war in Ukraine has one major issue at the moment: How to dissuade Russia from using the nuclear weapons it has developed for just such an eventuality where their conventional forces collapse, writes our chief correspondent.

President Biden’s infamous „don’t, don’t, don’t” from a few days ago is a gem of self-repeating Arafat rhetoric and bears no resemblance to JFK’s heavyweight threat when he said

„If that’s true, it’s going to be a very cold winter.”

Another mistake President Biden made in the 60 Minutes interview was to put chemical and tactical nuclear weapons in the same basket.

It’s time to face the fact that talking in general terms about „weapons of mass destruction” normalizes nuclear weapons.

Why?

Because all the taboos on chemical weapons have been broken in recent decades.

In Yemen, Namibia, Iraq and most recently Syria. The final nail in the coffin of the chemical warfare taboo was driven by President Obama. When the Syrian regime crossed the “red line” drawn by the US president without a reaction from the hyperpower, the taboo was finally broken.

In the current situation, it would be much more useful to take the issue of chemical weapons out of the basket and concentrate exclusively on nuclear weapons.

If we really want to deter the Russians, the West must provide Ukraine with a “nuclear umbrella,” a credible promise that a nuclear strike on Ukraine will be met with a nuclear strike.

Provided we’re seriously considering it.

If not, it is better to exercise the right to silence and try to deter Russia with the tactic of deliberate “nuclear ambiguity.”

President Biden has missed even that opportunity.

Instead, we got the nuclear equivalent of the „minor incursion” of January 19. That is, the US response will be determined by the size of a potential Russian nuclear strike. The effectiveness of this recurrent motif of Biden’s deterrence policy was demonstrated on February 24.

If Ukraine is not placed under the West’s nuclear umbrella as soon as possible, the Russians may interpret President Biden’s speech as giving them virtual carte blanche to use nuclear weapons, provided they do not overplay their hand.

Beyond the nuclear issue, this is also a measure of the West’s commitment.

If we don’t give Ukraine Western tanks, long-range strike equipment or a nuclear umbrella, it is very clear who was the first to swerve in this escalating game of „chicken.”

So we should not be surprised if the 21st century is the century of nuclear war.

Why would it not be?

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