Putin Says “Think Twice”
After the successful test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile, Vladimir Putin warned those “who are trying to threaten our country in the heat of frenzied, aggressive rhetoric to think twice.” Putin’s audience was not just the Russian people. He also directed his comments towards the United States and its allies. Western military analysts do not know the full capabilities of the missile. But they do know it struck a target 3,500 miles away in a test. Clearly, the demonstration aimed to scare Americans, Europeans, and other allies away from their support for Ukraine.
The prospect of nuclear war hangs over any conflict with Russia. Indeed, the mere possibility terrifies many Americans and Europeans. Of course, Russia knows this. Moreover, Putin has found time and time again the best way to resolve any conflict is through escalation. Western democratic publics rarely have the will to maintain an aggressive position under pressure. So, Putin’s strategy is always to escalate in order to deescalate. But would Russia really use nuclear weapons to win in Ukraine?
In recent years, Russia has turned its back on landmark treaties to control nuclear weapons and overtures to negotiate new treaties. Instead, they have moved forward with tests of low-yield nuclear weapons. Some will warn Russia is better prepared for nuclear war than the United States. At the same time, it’s no reason to allow an autocrat to have their way. If the West backs down due to the threat of nuclear war, it will do more than embolden Putin. It will signal the importance of nuclear weapons to every other dictator on the globe. It will accelerate not just the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but may even normalize their use as a weapon. So, please don’t think twice. It’s alright.