Ukraine War, September 21, 2022: In response to Putin’s nuclear threats, tell the world what various nuclear exchanges would look like, in detail


1) Christopher S Chivvis, “Yes, Putin might use nuclear weapons. We need to plan for scenarios where he does; Putin’s saber-rattling doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll deploy nukes. But he certainly could,” The Guardian, September 23, 2022 (12:30 p.m. EDT);


Vladimir Putin is making nuclear threats again, seeking to scare Joe Biden and the West with his theats of World War III.

It has worked for him in the past “If you oppose me, One, Two, Three, World War III.”

While Biden may still be influenced by these threats, there has been a stiffening of positions in the U.S. government, which has allowed close intelligence cooperation with Ukraine and the supply of increasingly sophisticated weapons systems, together with authorization to strike targets in any Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, including the Crimea.

The U.S. and the West are still withholding battle tanks, fighter aircraft, and the most advanced artillery shells for the HIMARS artillery units, which have a range of 180 miles or 300 kilometers.

Putin’s nuclear threats are obviously aimed at scaring Biden and the West so that they do not provide these weapons.

Putin’s latest ploy is to put on sham referendums in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions requesting annexation by Russia. This is the playbook followed in the Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014.

As part of Putin’s current round of escalation, he has also ordered a partial mobilization and an increase in war production of munitions.

His nuclear threats come in this context. Russian nuclear doctrine provides that nuclear weapons should only be used to defend the vital interests of Russia such as an attack on its territory.

Now, with the annexation of these provinces (oblasts) or regions in Ukraine, Putin hopes to increase Western fears of nuclear war.

As part of a well-choreographed campaign to instill fear of “World War III” in the hearts of Joe Biden and other Western leaders (e.g., Olaf Scholz), Russian media figures and Duma (parliament) representatives have been calling on Putin to use nuclear weapons. The most extreme of these Putin provocateurs have even called on Putin to launch a nuclear strike on London.

Biden, in his address to the U.N. General Assembly, pointed out that no one could win a nuclear war.

To effectively counter and neutralize Putin’s threats, the U.S. and Western countries should now gear up their public diplomacy and explain publicly, and particularly to the population of Russia, just what a nuclear exchange would look like.

While Western leaders may be concerned about panicking their own populations, Putin’s threats have reached the point where this risk must be taken. Moreover, such explanations could have the salutary effect of bringing home to domestic populations just how serious the confrontation with Russia in Ukraine really is. This could help shore up support for Ukraine in Europe where some countries may experience a very cold winter.

What type of public diplomacy programs are needed?

Films and simulations showing the effects of nuclear explosions on cities like Moscow and London should be shown, together with footage on the effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Various scenarios should be shown, including the detonation of a tactical nuclear weapon in or near Ukraine and a  NATO response with conventional forces against Russian forces in and near Ukraine.

Different escalation scenarios should be depicted, including escalation from use of a tactical nuclear weapon to a strike on a major city, e.g., London or Washington, and the likely retaliatory strike on Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Possibilities of limited nuclear exchange to two cities should be discussed, together with the safeguards (if any) that might prevent such an exchange from escalating to a large-scale nuclear war.

The details should be spelled out.

Many of the films and simulations of such events already exist. They should be shown immediately, while more tailored presentations are being prepared.

Such public diplomacy should deprive Putin from any domestic benefit he might get from making nuclear threats, and stop such ridiculous provocations as calling on Putin to make a nuclear strike on London.

One other step could help deter Putin from threatening or using nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Decisions Advisory Group

Biden should form a small “Nuclear Decisions Advisory Group” which would be involved in making any decisions to respond to the use of nuclear weapons. Biden should bring in a small group of 6-12 of the most seasoned current and former defense and diplomatic officials to become intimately involved in the taking of these decisions. People like Bob Gates and Leon Panetta.

The formation of such a “Nuclear Decisions Advisory Group” could go a long way toward disabusing Putin of any misperceptions he might have about Joe Biden and his foreign policy team and the nature of the U.S. and NATO response to any use by him of nuclear weapons, even tactical nuclear weapons.

The Trenchant Observer

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James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.