Analysis & Opinions - TIME Magazine

Will Russia Go Nuclear? 7 Key Questions to Consider

| Jan. 05, 2023

As Putin threatens to strike Ukraine with tactical nuclear weapons and Biden warns that this risks escalation to nuclear Armageddon, many observers have wondered aloud whether the septuagenarian or the octogenarian or both have lost touch with reality. Pundits declare Putin’s threats “irrational,” since according to them no rational leader could order a nuclear strike on another state. Critics of Biden have seized on his references to nuclear annihilation, for example when he recently said that “for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have a direct threat of the use of nuclear weapons” which “could end in Armageddon,” as decisive evidence of senility.

Even observers less judgmental about Biden and Putin have dismissed these two leaders’ talk about nuclear weapons and war as a throwback to the last century. Having come of age since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, many imagined that nuclear weapons had somehow been relegated to the dustbin of history when we buried the Evil Empire. After more than seven decades without the use of nuclear weapons in war, foreign policy experts assert that a “nuclear taboo” has made any use of nuclear weapons “inconceivable”—failing to recognize that when one declares something to be inconceivable, that is a statement not about what is possible, but about what one’s mind can conceive.

Thankfully, Americans have a president and national security team who know better. As the individual who understands Putin best, CIA Director Bill Burns, has repeatedly stated, Putin’s threat to conduct a nuclear strike is deadly serious. Why has the Biden administration gone to such extraordinary lengths to prevent Putin from conducting such a strike? Because they understand that this really would set in motion a dangerous spiral that could end in full-scale nuclear war.

To begin to appreciate what President Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, CIA Director Bill Burns, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan understand that most of the press and talking heads who have been discounting nuclear risks posed by the war in Ukraine don’t, it is useful to consider answers to seven questions

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For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“Will Russia Go Nuclear? 7 Key Questions to Consider.” TIME Magazine, January 5, 2023.