Ukraine War: Escalation to a Russian Nuclear Strike?

Ukraine War: Escalation to a Russian Nuclear Strike?

The situation is now worsening. Flash referendums for Donbass from September 23. This would officially mean that Donbass would be Russian territory, and if the Ukrainians continue to attack the Donbass, Russia would officially go to war, although it is unclear whether this would automatically will lead to a Russian general mobilization. On all Russian TV channels the demand to destroy Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure in such a way that the Ukrainians agree to a negotiated solution in winter. Reminds me a bit of Bomber Harris. General Milley warns of a nuclear strike, as does Biden. Interestingly, there is now the first survey of how the German population reacts to it. Most are still undecided and can be influenced. But there are more people who advocate a military response than those who would immediately jump into peace negotiations. But hard to tell what the reaction will be if it actually happens.

“Nuclear escalation would be different than Putin assumes

Guest contribution by Felix Lemmer

(…) Rather, a tactical nuclear strike aims to create a risky scenario; It is said to be so unstable that the adversary considers the consequences of further escalation to be worse than withdrawal or agreeing to negotiations. The use of nuclear weapons in such a scenario is therefore primarily a political strategy. The target is the opponent’s psyche.

In the current situation, the following scenario would be conceivable: the Russian invasion of Ukraine is becoming increasingly stagnant. Russia has nearly 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads, which have long been a bone of contention in arms control negotiations. Putin could decide to detonate such a warhead demonstratively over Ukraine in order to break the Ukrainians‘ will to fight and intimidate NATO. Putin could bet that panic would erupt in both Ukraine and the thirty NATO member states, and that decision-making would be so paralyzed that Ukraine’s will to fight and further arms deliveries or other support to Ukraine would be off the table. How would the German population react to a tactical nuclear strike? That’s the theory, but would it work? How would the German population react to a tactical nuclear strike? We asked this question in two representative surveys that we conducted in spring 2021 and summer 2022. In our hypothetical scenario, Russia attacks the NATO member state Latvia, after which NATO launches a defense mission. Then Russia detonates a tactical nuclear weapon to force the end of NATO intervention. In one variation, this nuclear strike is demonstrative over the North Sea, in another, a NATO ship is attacked with a tactical nuclear weapon. Most do not know how the federal government would react The results of our surveys show that a large part of the German population (approx. 40% in 2021 and 2022) do not know how the federal government should react in such a scenario. About 18% of respondents (19% in 2021 and 17% in 2022) want to continue defending Latvia but without responding militarily to the Russian nuclear strike. Around 18% of the German population (17% in 2021 and 20% in 2022) would call for a non-nuclear retaliatory strike and around 10% of those surveyed are in favor of NATO also considering a demonstrative nuclear weapon explosion over the Black Sea . In the case of a NATO attack, respondents tend to choose more aggressive reactions Only around 13% (15% in 2021 and 11% in 2022) are in favor of immediately starting peace negotiations with Russia and ending the defense of Latvia. In the variation in which the NATO ship is attacked, respondents are more likely to choose more aggressive responses, such as non-nuclear military retaliation, rather than an end to Latvia’s defenses. These results suggest that a nuclear escalation by Russia would not go the way Putin might envision. A demonstrative use of nuclear weapons seems to trigger more anger than fear in Germany and would therefore by no means lead directly to an end to a NATO operation. Despite the many Russian nuclear threats in recent months, fewer respondents are intimidated by a nuclear strike in 2022 than in 2021. However, the high rate of “don’t know” responses indicates that public opinion is malleable and it is very improtant how the political leadership will react should such a scenario occur.

But ultimately it is not the German population or populations in general that decide what the answer will be, but governments, NATO and above all the US government as the strongest and most important nuclear and military power. At best, the German goverment will be consulted.

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