Nuclear weapons and the Ukraine crisis

Photo: Voice of America

A Soviet SS-19 missile being destroyed in the yard of the largest former Soviet military rocket base in Vakulenchuk, Ukraine, 1997.

By now, it should be obvious that there isn’t much we in the West can do about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine. This is a tremendous crisis, easily the worst of the post-Cold War world. U.S. and Allied policymakers are all scuffing their toes along the ground with their hands in their pockets while they mumble things about “sanctions” and “exercises” and other phrases, but they know there is little left for them to do that will change the facts on the ground along the Black Sea.

There’s a lot to do to provide for the future, including a full reconsideration of twenty years of policy that has clearly gone wrong. But before we take another step, it’s time to dispense with the loose talk concerning nuclear weapons. This crisis is bad enough, and we don’t need a lot of half-baked theorizing and rash recommendations. Nuclear weapons could not have prevented this crisis, and they cannot solve it.

Nuclear weapons are, as far as this whole sordid business goes, irrelevant. The exception, of course, is if Putin completely loses what’s left of his marbles and decides to threaten NATO, in which case we are headed for a nightmare that will make Cuba in 1962 seem like a mere misunderstanding among drinking buddies. (The Russians are already making growling noises about Estonia. This is unwise.) Short of that, nuclear weapons have no real role here.

There are two main lines of argument about nukes in this crisis. The first is that if Ukraine hadn’t given up its Soviet nuclear stockpile, it wouldn’t be in this mess today. The second is that now that Putin has bared his Soviet fangs, it’s time to put nuclear weapons back up front in NATO, perhaps even in places like Poland.

The first idea is wrong, the second is pure crazy talk. Let’s take them one at a time.

The idea that Ukraine is now paying for giving up its nuclear arsenal — well, technically, it was the Soviet arsenal, not Ukraine’s — some 20 years ago is coming from from a lot of directions, including the usual people whose ignorance of foreign affairs is often in direct proportion to their aggressiveness. (Two words: Sarah Palin.)

But other, more sensible people have made this argument, too, including the Ukrainians themselves. And understandably so: Ukraine, at least in theory, traded nuclear weapons for sovereignty over its own territory in 1994.

This agreement, the Budapest Memorandum (trivia points: where was it signed?) obligated the U.S., Britain, and the new Russian Federation to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for Ukraine’s agreement to give up the Soviet weapons on its territory. Should any party violate Ukraine’s territory, the memorandum obligated each party to…well, to do nothing. Actually, it does require us to go to the UN Security Council, which is in fact the very definition of “doing nothing.”

Back then, this wasn’t all as feckless as it seems now. Remember, people saying “Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons” are thinking of today’s Ukraine, not the post-Soviet chaos of the 1990s in which Russia looked like the most stable remnant of the wreckage.

As Ambassador Steven Pifer later pointed out, the Americans were clear that they could not, and would not, extend military guarantees to Ukraine in such uncertain times. Hindsight is easy, but the negotiators did the best they could in the world they faced. The goal was to stabilize the world left in the wake of the Soviet implosion. The diplomats did their job and bought us more than two decades of breathing room.

The larger issue here is that those critical of the Budapest process are attached to the complete fantasy that anyone, especially in Washington, was going to agree to Ukraine keeping those nukes. That wasn’t going to happen. There were hundreds of strategic weapons on Ukrainian soil, including some two hundred ICBMs that for all we knew were still targeted at the United States.

Clinton, Yeltsin, and Kravchuk, in happier times.

Clinton, Yeltsin, and Kravchuk, in happier times.

Worse, Ukraine at the time was run by a guy named Leonid Kravchuk, whose previous job had been — wait for it — as a top member of the Soviet Communist Party in Ukraine. (He had even held the ideology portfolio, usually a hard-liner’s job.) Kravchuk was a classic Soviet bureaucrat who, like so many clever men in 1991, was in the right place at the right time when the Soviet Union went down.

When Kravchuk decided to try to shake down the West for about six billion bucks in 1992, it prompted me to write one of my very first national op-eds. Published in the Christian Science Monitor 22 years ago, I was scathing in my denunciation of Kravchuk’s cheap nationalism, as I was of all the Soviet bureaucrats who had suddenly gotten religion (some, literally) after the fall of the USSR. The Russian Federation was the Soviet successor state, and like most Westerners, I wanted to deal with one nuclear state, not three or four new ones.

I was vicious to the Ukrainian regime of the time, maybe too much so. But Kravchuk was an operator, and he was less concerned with Russia than money. What he was doing was straight-up nuclear blackmail.

This, by the way, was my first career dust-up with the public. Ukrainian-Americans started a coordinated letter-writing campaign to my department at Dartmouth College, demanding that I be censored, disciplined, or even fired. My chairman, with a small and ironic smile, patiently wrote letters to anti-communist Ukrainians explaining to them that this was not the old Soviet Union, and that I was free to write as I wished.

I am obliged to report as well that I got a nice mention, too, in the pages of Pravda. This was pretty hard for a Cold Warrior like me to take, to be considered a smart young American scholar by the creeps who ran one of the worst papers in the world. (My then-wife was working in the intelligence community at the time, and you can imagine how much fun it was for her to find out from the guy down the hall at work that her hubby had made the Cool Kids List in Pravda before I knew it myself. Good times.)

Anyway, for those who think that Kravchuk made a bad deal, consider the alternative: a divided, unstable Ukraine between NATO and Russia, sitting on enough nuclear firepower to obliterate most of the Northern Hemisphere. That’s the kind of crazy situation only political scientists love. No one was going to let that happen, and it didn’t.

Kazakhstan, also home to Soviet nukes, got similar ideas for a time. Imagine if we’d caved on Ukrainian nukes in 1992, and the Kazakhs had followed suit. Try that world on for size. As it was, the Clinton administration had to spirit a lot of fissile material out of there on the sly, and if you think Ukraine or Kazakhstan should have kept those weapons, read this article about it all in the Times first.

More important, not only would a Ukrainian nuclear arsenal have played no role in deterring Putin from acting up in Crimea, it probably would have led to a Russian invasion far earlier than this.

Popular protests in the streets of Kyiv in, say, 2004, would have led the U.S. and Europe to cast nervous sideways glances at whoever was guarding Ukrainian nuclear arms. At that moment, Putin would have loved to present himself as doing the entire world a favor by intervening to “secure” those weapons.  Indeed, the Russian special services might well have made ensured that something would happen to put the weapons in danger so they’d have a pretext for action.

In short, had Ukraine kept its nuclear weapons, something awful would have happened, and it would have been a lot worse, and a lot earlier, than this.

But what about the idea of beefing up NATO’s nuclear forces now that Putin’s gone rogue?

Unless you’ve never read a single word of this blog, you probably realize that I think NATO should just dump its tactical nuclear arms and get it over with, especially since NATO’s former nuclear targets are now all inside NATO itself.

You can pretty much forget all those silly war-gamer scenarios where we and the Kremlin toss nuclear firecrackers at each other in Central Europe. World War III will be short and final, no matter how many Bright Young Things show you the clever grad school papers they wrote proving otherwise.

And yet, the idea persists. Here’s the vice president and director of studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C., Jim Thomas, on the subject:

A preliminary step should be making the Polish air force’s F-16s capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons so that they could participate in NATO’s nuclear mission. That should quickly be followed by site surveys to identify suitable locations for potentially storing nuclear weapons on the territory of front-line allies, including Poland, if relations with Russia further deteriorate.

During the Cold War, the notion of placing nukes near the front line was to enhance their deterrent value by making them “use or lose” weapons in the event of invasion. Is that really what we want to do now, premised on a future Russian invasion of Poland?

Arm it with nukes? Really?

Or perhaps we should just leave them there as targets for Russia to destroy from a distance — maybe even with preemptive nuke strikes — at the first sign of trouble. The Russians, as analyst Nikolai Sokov notes, already have a desperately crazy military concept that calls for “de-escalation” of a war against Russia with nuclear strikes because they know their conventional forces, especially compared to NATO, aren’t worth spit.

So what does nuclearizing “new NATO” buy us? What does any of this do to stabilize Europe and protect our friends? Nothing. It’s an idea to put nuclear weapons near Russian military activity in hopes of spreading the magical effect of fissionable material. If these weapons had to be used, no one would use them, nor would they make sense in combat. But they’d be there as a sign of our hope in deterrence, like a plutonium-filled rabbit’s foot.

I come from a family of cops, and I learned one thing about cops: they never draw their gun unless they’re quite willing to kill someone. That’s a good rule of thumb for nuclear arms, too. No “demonstrations,” no “signals,” or other actions that sound good at academic conferences. Nuclear weapons only have two settings, “on” and “off,” and off is where they should stay unless the US or Europe is threatened with nuclear violence.

Former Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman has also weighed in:

Reinforcing the NATO air policing mission in the Baltics is a good beginning, but this will also require a thorough reconsideration by the alliance of the self-abnegating undertakings it assumed at the time of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997. The alliance should consider whether and how it wants to position ground combat forces on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact states that now are members of NATO. It should also reconsider the so-called three no’s—no intention, no plan, no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of the new NATO members. Bringing NATO military power closer to the borders of Russia would impose a real cost on the Russian military and might cause nationalists who support Putin’s current course to reconsider.

Ambassador Edelman is an experienced public servant, and I’m hesitant to disagree with him. In fact, I’m completely on board with increasing the number of Allied forces on NATO territory, including the number of Americans. The Russians seem to have forgotten that war with NATO means war with 28 nations at once, and it’s high time to remind them.

But nuclear weapons close to the Eastern edge? Once again, there’s no clear notion of why we’re putting them there, other than the generic belief that if we can get them close to the bad guys, the halo effect might prove calming. Or something.

The obvious flaw here is that if we’re not willing to beef up NATO conventional forces, to spend at least 2% on defense, to impose sanctions on Russia, then why would the Kremlin think we’re ready to even think about the use of nuclear arms?

In the end, talking about nuclear weapons is not a strategy. It’s a placeholder for a strategy, a nuclear crutch on which we rely when we’ve run out of any other kind of creative thinking, or when we’re not willing to make the material sacrifices that more expensive options require. Nuclear weapons are shorthand, symbols, ornaments meant to demonstrate resolve without the actual presence of resolve.

Crimea is lost. Whining about it, and making empty threats, will only deepen the severe damage the West has suffered in this latest of a string of defeats against a tougher and more seasoned Kremlin team. This is the time to be calm, to be hard, to be cold, and to be consistent.

The best thing we could do now, in general, is to stop talking. We are never as threatening as when we don’t speak, and lately, we’ve been talking too much and to no effect. It is time to to be quiet, to take stock, consult with our allies, and to make Putin ponder the reality that he is now creating a stronger America where he wanted a weak one, a more united Europe where he wanted more division, and a reinvigorated NATO where he hoped there might one day be none.

Let Putin and his henchmen in Crimea blather as they will. It is now time for them to wonder what we’re up to, not vice versa.

We can make Putin pay for his crimes in Ukraine in installments and with hefty interest, until he has to explain to his own people why he is again risking making them into economic paupers and political pariahs. Then the price of his adventure on a small peninsula will be clearer to ordinary Russians, if not to him. It will take time, money, and focus. We have the first two in abundance. We need to summon the third.

What we don’t need are nuclear weapons. We can do everything we need to do and never utter those words. It is time to throw away the nuclear lucky penny, and discard fantasies about nuclear weapons. Instead of notional nuclear arms, we need to sling real rifles, pilot real aircraft, and provide real sustenance and tangible support to our friends as we stand at their sides. Only then will we see what Putin’s recycled Soviet speeches really mean.

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25 comments

  1. Great post, Tom. But you missed something. If, as Biden promises, we expedite plans to deploy SM-3 missile defense in Poland, won’t that make Putin think twice next time?

  2. Great piece! I liked the part about Putin using (supposed) Ukrainian nuclear weapons as an excuse to invade. Now that would be copyright violation, on top of international law violation, wouldn’t it ? He wouldn’t stoop that low :)

  3. BTW I am not sure I follow the logic here:
    1) we should not deploy nukes,
    2) deployment is likely to increase the likelihood of invasion, but
    3) in case of invasion no one would use them,

    which, if all of that is believed, leaves open the question of what’s the harm of deployment? Increases chances of an invasion? But the locals want them? So why be paternalistic?

    more relevant, the author should tell us his policy preferences – suppose the Baltics/Finland/Germany do get invaded. Use nukes or not? Depends on the country? Given the woefully inadequate military spending of these countries (and, apparently, now also ours) what does non-use mean in practice? While the author may believe in the “better red than dead” formula, he should be honest and say so.

    • The harm in deployment is that their presence increases the chance of a minor crisis turning into Armageddon. That worked out well during the Cold War, but I’d rather not try to re-run that experiment over again. And if the “locals want them,” it is not our responsibility to put them there. If those weapons belong to us, then we decide where they go and when they’re used – if ever.

      My policy preference is never to use nuclear weapons. I would think calling a book “No Use” would have clarified that.

      • Tom, how can we have a credible nuclear deterrent without being willing to use nuclear weapons if directly challenged? Deterrence is about communicating threats to an adversary in a manner that makes it clear he will suffer unacceptable damage if he threatens your vital interests, and thus he won’t threaten those interests in the first place because the costs outweigh the benefits. For that to work, you must have a credible and effective deterrent (in terms of military systems, C2), plus a political resolve to use that capability and both must be clearly demonstrated to the other side. If the other side knows you’ll never use the capability, even if your vital interests are challenged, then your deterrent lacks credibility no matter how big it is.

        If we wish to maintain nuclear deterrence, by extension we must be willing to undertake warfighting in order to prevent threats from occuring. I’d argue ‘no use’ undermines a credible nuclear deterrent.

        • Each of Person A and Person B have nukes. Person A believes that nonuse is the most important thing in the world. Person B credibly announces a contrary view. Assume further that Person A has a robust conventional army. Person B has no army at all (not counting the guy in the silo). Person B then makes demands on Person A threatening to nuke Person A if demands are not met. What happens? Class analyze.

          • Frank…takes me back to my postgraduate strategy classes…Except its more like this… Person A and Person B both have nukes. Person A’s nukes are getting old and Person A thinks more about how he can get rid of them and hopefully encourage Person B (as well as Person’s C,D, E, etc) to do the same – he’d rather have no nukes because he assumes the world will be a safer and more peaceful place without them. Person B’s nukes are also old, but are being modernised. Person B relies heavily on his nukes and see’s them as a weapon of strength – Person A would rather they not have any real utility (in an operational sense) and see’s them as a weapon of the weak. Now Person A does have a powerful conventional military force, but they are suffering from severe budget cuts which will only grow worse over time, and so are likely to lose capability over time. Plus Person A has lots of other problems to deal with, so his conventional military power is spread out across many areas, whereas Person B can (for the moment) focus only on dealing with Person A and his allies in one region. Person B does have a powerful army and though it is not nearly as powerful as it used to be, it is being modernised and now can be used to effectively threaten and intimidate Person B’s neighbours, and even invade and annexe their territories. Its also powerful enough to inflict heavy costs on Person A’s conventional forces, if it came to that.

            So, Person B threatens its neighbours with its conventional forces and uses its nuclear forces to prevent Person A from interfering. Person A can’t intervene because of Person B’s nuclear forces and Person B’s clear willingness to use those forces if challenged. Person B has a free hand to use his conventional forces at the expense of Person A’s interests. Person B wins because he has resolve and demonstrates a willingness to ensure escalation dominance, and furthermore he is cunning enough not to back Person A into a corner by directly challenging critical interests.

            And the ‘so what?’ is….?

  4. Great post Tom (as always). I think you are right about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of placing tactical nuclear weapons into NATO eastern states like Poland or Hungary. Its meaningless to us because these weapons no longer directly contribute to the defence of NATO territory against a Russian threat, and I think would only give the Russians an excuse to deploy their tactical nuclear forces (Iskanders, etc) in response which would only destablise things further. Of course, having said, the Russians may do this anyhow – the Iskanders in Kaliningrad need to be looked at carefully.

    What NATO should be doing – and fast – is beefing up its conventional air and ground forces along its eastern frontier as a clear deterrent against any Russian threat to the Baltic States in particular. I doubt the Russians will threaten Poland unless NATO’s response to Russia’s revanchism remains relatively limp-wristed, or military assistance to Ukraine leads to mission-creep and NATO gets drawn in there. I think that any threat to NATO from Russia would be directed first at the Baltic states on the pretext of ‘protecting ethnic Russian populations’ – so deploying US and European ground forces there not as a ‘tripwire’ but with sufficient combat mass to counter a Russian intervention across the border – is a better policy.

    My only caveat to these points, and where I see nuclear weapons still being necessary, is if the Russians choose to withdraw from or openly violate the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (see comments by Amb Robert Joseph on Russian testing of a LACM which violates INF at RUSI @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj1k2j81dWg&list=UUkPv5___jXTEGQ6VE0a1gdA – very good!). There have been some voices in Russia calling for consideration of withdrawing from the INF Treaty for some time, in particular due to the growing challenge posed by China’s PLA Second Artillery Corps (PLASAC) long-range missile capabilities, including now, the DF-26C IRBM (http://nosint.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/china-fields-new-intermediate-range.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter ). I think between growing PLASAC ballistic missile capabilities, and now, the collapse of Russian-Western relations, a Russian withdrawal from INF is quite possible. In which case the Russians could re-deploy IRBMs and other delivery systems of 500km-5,500km range, and threaten NATO with both nuclear and non-nuclear strikes from within Western Russia or Belarus. In which case NATO then faces the same challenge as it did in the 1980s with the Soviet deployment of the SS-20. How do you respond to a direct Russian nuclear threat against NATO without relying on strategic nuclear delivery systems that would drive a nuclear war up the ladder of escalation (to borrow from Hermann Kahn)?

    I do think one outcome of this crisis will be the restoration of nuclear deterrence to the pre-eminence it once held in US strategy. The Obama Administration can no longer be constrained by the narrative of Prague 2009 and utopian visions of a ‘global zero’ world without the bomb. Instead there should be a policy shift to refocus once again on ensuring the credibility of nuclear deterrence in the face of a much more dangerous security environment. I recognise the legal obligations to work towards nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the NPT, and I acknowledge the ethical and moral arguments related to that, but basing our nuclear policy on ‘hope’ for a more peaceful and cooperative world order is not a strategy. Putin has rammed home the reality of hard power in our faces, and in doing so, set back any chance of achieving utopian visions of a rules-based cooperative world by a generation or longer. Nuclear weapons matter. They have a valid role to play at the strategic level in ensuring credible deterrence against overwhelming threats. Nor are they ‘weapons of the weak’. The Russians and the Chinese certainly don’t see them this way. I don’t think NATO would be so hesitant to think about military options in supporting Ukraine if Russia did not have sizeable nuclear forces at hand.

  5. By now, it should be obvious that there isn’t much we in the West can do about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine.
    ———-
    Nothing has been tried. Here is an article by the Putin rival Navalny in today NYT appropriately headlined “How to Punish Putin”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/opinion/how-to-punish-putin.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimesworld

    Freeze the assets of the olygarhs in his inner circle, make for them impossible to travel abroad and Putin will go into exile. It is really that simple. How can you say that nothing can be done when nothing is being tried? France is bickering with UK about a couple of billions they can lost if true sanctions are implemented. Ridiculous

    • “Freeze the assets of the olygarhs in his inner circle, make for them impossible to travel abroad and Putin will go into exile. It is really that simple.”

      That wont stop Putin. Vladimir Putin has delusions of indispensability and he’s created havoc in fighting to stay in power because he genuinely believes his abilities are crucial for the survival/interests of his country and that no-one else can do it. Fucking with him like that right now will reinforce his delusions, which is reckless and dangerous. The best thing we can do is accept geopolitical losses, remain silent, consolidate our power, and develop a long term strategy to deal with him.

  6. Putin knows that as long as Obama is president the republicans will continue to weaken the USA. It would be nice if the GOP would show some unity, just once, but that appears impossible.

    • You’re laying this off on one-half of one-third of the government? The House had nothing to do with this one. Or Syria. Or Iran (where the White House barked down Senators from its own party who were trying to be tougher.) Cripes, is the White House responsible for nothing in your view?

  7. “because they know their conventional forces, especially compared to NATO, aren’t worth spit.”

    If Russia’s conventional forces are so decrepit compared to NATO’s why does NATO need to increase military spending? They already have a huge advantage.

      • Tom, do you think another cold war relic is the popular perception of near-peer conventional military status with Russian and the United States?

        • Yes, I think there is still a mistaken belief among many Americans (and maybe Europeans?) that we and Russia are still somehow in the same weight class as military organizations.

  8. It is clear that Putin wants to rebuild the old Soviet empire and he is using classic salami tactics to do it. NATO is a dinosaur and completely unsuited to defend the former soviet satellites against invasion by Russia. NATO’s mission was to stop a massive Soviet invasion and attack of the West, it was going to be a life or death struggle with nukes at the ready. But NATO is now being asked to get into a life or death struggle when Russia wants to get back its former satellites. The US will not risk nukes landing on Washington or New York for the sake of a few small countries most of whose inhabitants want Russian rule anyway. Putin understands NATO far more than its members and he know he can get what he wants with minimal cost. If the former Soviet satellites including Poland, Hungary and Romania want to prevent a Russian invasion, their only defence are getting their own nuclear weapons. There is a reason why no nuclear power has been invaded and any conventional conflict between nuclear powers are quickly de-escalated.

    • I kind of agree.

      Tom says “The Russians are already making growling noises about Estonia. This is unwise.”

      Why is this unwise? I could be missing something, so let’s play the devil’s advocate. What would the NATO/US response to an invasion of Estonia be?

      I think (hope?) it’s safe to say a NATO nuclear response is off the table. So, the question is, would NATO really invoke Article 5 and send 27 other nations worth of conventional forces to Estonia’s aid? I’m personally skeptical, particularly so since NATO’s core has self-proclaimed “war weariness” (and I’m not just talking about the US here).

      If NATO does respond conventionally, it will likely do so at a medium pace, allowing Russia sufficient time to backtrack or otherwise work to mitigate any diplomatic/military response.

      But if NATO doesn’t respond, if Article 5 isn’t invoked, or is done so without rigor, then the alliance is essentially all but defunct.

      So, in my mind, Russia tinkering in Estonia may not be that unwise, from their point of view. NATO may very well be overextended and bluffing right now, but nobody will know unless someone decides to call. There’s little risk for Russia to call, and a tremendous upside if the gamble pays off.

      Am I missing something?

      • I think you’re missing the point about whether NATO would respond, since Estonia is actually part of NATO. There’d be no choice. U.S. and other western forces would be committed, period. And if U.S. forces were attacked, treaties with other nations would become active. (The ANZUS treaty was activated after 9/11, as well as Article 5.)

        • That Estonia is in NATO is exactly my point.

          I fully acknowledge that I’m entering the realm of crazy talk here, but isn’t that what the comment section of blog posts are for? So, suspend incredulity for a moment- which shouldn’t be that hard, considering the way the world has changed in 25 years.

          25 years ago, (in broad strokes,) everyone agreed NATO was the gold standard of Alliances, the Soviet formerly known as Russia was on the ropes, the West used money not guns to coerce the USSR, and NATO’s military plan for defense of the continent was a tactical nuclear barrage to negate the heavy conventional advantage the Red Army enjoyed.

          Today the tables seem to be turned: Russia is using our playbook against us, militarily, diplomatically, and economically, and everyone agrees NATO aint what it used to be.

          At least, that is what everyone says about NATO- nobody really knows how healthy the Alliance is, because it hasn’t *really* been tested, at least not in the post-Cold War era. I do not equate “2001 NATO” invoking Article 5 against terrorism to “201X NATO” invoking Article 5 against a large nuclear nation, as the Alliance originally intended.

          There is some wiggle room in Article 5. In the event of an invasion, each member state can take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” Perhaps some member states will decide that the necessary action to restore the security of the North Atlantic area is to cede, not attack.

          Now that I threw that grenade, I will equivocate by saying I don’t think anyone doubted the intent or resolve of the original members who drafted the charter in 1949 in the face of an existential threat. But I’m not so sure about today.

          If Russia’s long-term strategy is to regain pre-eminence in Eastern Europe, then a necessary (nee essential?) task is to undermine NATO in that region. One way to do that may be to hold an Article 5 party in Southeastern Estonia (on humanitarian grounds, of course).

          So, back to my original statement- if NATO comes to the party, Russia can likely back off without major harm done. Further, the mobilization will be costly to NATO, causing further simmering discontent in the Alliance- advantage Russia. If NATO doesn’t come to the party, the unsaid but understood conclusion is that the Alliance, at least for the new member states, is a sham- advantage Russia.

          So, why is adventurism in Estonia unwise for Russia?

  9. Tom,

    Well written article. Concur with your comments regarding the U.S. response.

    ‘If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course… would be to tread lightly.’
    “W.W”

  10. “More important, not only would a Ukrainian nuclear arsenal have played no role in deterring Putin from acting up in Crimea, it probably would have led to a Russian invasion far earlier than this.”

    A very good observation. Comments like this are why I read this site. There is so much boilerplate out there it’s refreshing to see an oasis of sanity.