Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

Things Get Ugly if Russia Pulls the Nuclear Trigger in Ukraine

| Feb. 25, 2023

The United States must think several steps ahead in considering how it would respond to Russian nuclear use.

Not long ago, one of my students asked: “So, if my phone tells me the Russians have used nuclear weapons in Ukraine, should I do anything different here?” In other words: should I head for the hills?My answer is “no.” The U.S. and Russian governments know full well that lobbing nuclear weapons at each other would be suicidal—each has enough powerful, survivable nuclear weapons to obliterate the other as a functioning society. No one is going to march down that road on purpose.

But it’s a nervous “no,” because the key lesson of the crises of the last several decades is that there is a fog of crisis, just as there is a fog of war, and things can happen that no leader originally intended. And in this case, thinking about how the United States might respond to Russian nuclear use makes clear just how rapidly things could get very dicey.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bunn, Matthew.“Things Get Ugly if Russia Pulls the Nuclear Trigger in Ukraine.” The National Interest, February 25, 2023.

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