Will he or won’t he? Vladimir Putin has threatened sotto voce to use nuclear weapons in the field if NATO keeps giving weapons to Ukraine and to move Russian nuclear-weapons stocks closer to the borders as well. Former nat-sec adviser Robert C. O’Brien warned in a Wall Street Journal essay this week that a lack of deterrent actions now would likely signal to Putin that he could get away with it.
O’Brien wrote that the West needed to make clear what the consequences of such acts would be, in firm and unambiguous terms:
The time is now to deter Russia from “escalating to de-escalate.” The U.S. must unambiguously communicate to Moscow what lies ahead if it goes down this terrible path. Mr. Putin and his supporters need to understand that if he detonates a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, the U.S. response will be swift and significant—far exceeding the limited export sanctions under consideration around the world in response to Russian atrocities in Bucha.
America and its allies shouldn’t retaliate in kind, with nuclear weapons. The U.S. should, however, be prepared to take other serious actions quickly. Among the options:
• Clear the Russian navy’s two remaining Slava-class cruisers, their escort ships and submarines from the Mediterranean. This could be accomplished by a diplomatic démarche followed by more-forceful action if necessary to enforce compliance.
• Eliminate Russian air and military assets in Syria and Libya on the same basis. The U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have the ability to do so fully within hours if Russia refuses to withdraw its forces to its homeland.
O’Brien offered a few more options, but those are the two that would require military force and would likely push the conflict into a broader European war. If that’s what we want to do — and I’d argue against it as much and as long as possible — then I had a suggestion that might allow for an intermediate option with enough secrecy to keep Putin from forcing another escalation.
Whatever we will do, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Hugh Hewitt and me on Hugh’s Salem Radio Network show this morning, we’d better be clear about it. And if we really want to deter Putin from using nukes in an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, then we’d also better follow through on our threats immediately and without hesitation:
I asked Pompeo about O’Brien’s argument and how much risk he saw in Putin’s thinly veiled nuclear threats. “We have to be very clear about the things we will do,” Pompeo responded, and “we need to make damned sure that we are prepared to do the things we tell Vladimir Putin that we’re going to do.” We need to put some horrid consequences into Putin’s “cold” mind as a way to head off that kind of crisis. Pompeo wasn’t necessarily on board with every option O’Brien listed, but noted that “there are many tools at our disposal” to deter Putin — as long as we make sure he knows we plan to use them all if nuclear weapons get introduced into the equation.
If Putin uses a tactical nuclear weapon anyway even after explicit warnings, then those consequences should immediately follow, “jot and tittle, and immediately. No discussions, no meetings of the National Security Council — decision made, execution mode,” Pompeo emphasized.
Earlier on, we discussed the performance of the United Nations and NATO in this crisis. “I think the UN, for a long time, has been an organization incapable of actually dealing with the things it has been tasked to do,” Pompeo replied. “I saw it on the China issue,” he added. “When you can’t call out the Chinese Communist Part for what’s taking place, and for when the Wuhan virus is unleashed on the world from that place, and the Secretary-General says ‘you know, I’m not gonna get involved in this’, I think it’s just fundamentally broken, Pompeo said, “and we’ve seen that here too.” Pompeo called out the UN Security Council for its impotence in this crisis and concludes by recommending that we reconsider our ongoing involvement “in a very, very serious way.”
There’s much more to this interview, so be sure to watch it in full. Also, I will be co-hosting with Hugh every day next week except for Tuesday, when Kurt Schlichter will fill in on his own. It’s been a blast so far, and I hope our listeners and viewers in the Hughniverse are enjoying it as much as I am.