Russia might use nuclear weapons to achieve its goals in the war in Ukraine—a risk that has only grown as Russian forces confront Ukrainian counteroffensives. Such nuclear use could advance the Kremlin’s military aims, undermine U.S. interests globally, and set off a humanitarian catastrophe unseen since 1945. To deter such a potential disaster, the United States should issue public, deliberately vague threats of serious consequences for any Russian use of nuclear weapons and be prepared to follow through with conventional military strikes on Russian forces if deterrence fails.
Background: Russian nuclear use in Ukraine is possible Following Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine this year, the United States and its allies and partners have responded with military aid to Ukraine, sanctions on the Russian economy, and reinforcements to NATO’s eastern flank. To date, the United States and its allies have ruled out direct military intervention against Russia. Nuclear threats are core to Russia’s military strategy, and there is a nonzero chance that Russian President Vladimir Putin will order a nuclear strike on Ukraine.
Russia’s so-called “escalate-to-de-escalate” strategy calls for nuclear threats and, if necessary, limited nuclear use to compel the end to conflict on terms favorable to Moscow.
Putin has made a series of nuclear threa …