Ukraine War, September 27, 2022: The response of the U.S. and NATO to Putin’s nuclear threats

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order.

Dispatches

1) Adrian Karatnycky, “A Western Surge Could Counter Putin’s Mobilization; His resort to a draft is a sign of weakness and risks turning public opinion against the Ukraine war, Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2022 (12:35 pm ET);

Mr. Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, is author of the forthcoming “Battleground Ukraine: From Independence to the Russian War.”

2) “Ukraine War, September 26, 2022: Nuclear scenarios,” The Trenchant Observer, September 26, 2022.

3) Joseph Cirincione, “”Putin says nuclear threat is no bluff. We should take him at his word,” Washington Post, September 26, 2022 (2:39 p.m. EDT);

Joseph Cirincione is author of “Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late.”

4) David Von Drehle, “Putin is limping toward an endgame in Ukraine. Should the West go along?” Washington Post, September 27, 2022k (4:18 p.m. EDT);

5) Peggy Noonan, “It’s a Mistake to Shrug Off Putin’s Threats; As we saw before World War I, it’s easy to become complacent as trouble builds into catastrophe,” Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2022 (6:47 pm ET);

Analysis

Joseph Cirincione describes the options facing Putin and the U.S. with respect to the use of nuclear weapons. Clearly familiar with the thinking of U.S. decision makers, he details some of the anemic U.S. responses to Putin’s use of a nuclear weapon that are apparently under consideration.

See “Ukraine War, September 26, 2022: Nuclear scenarios,” The Trenchant Observer, September 26, 2022.

Adrian Karatnycky argues, cogently, that the best response to Putin’s recent escalation is to surge arms and other support into Ukraine.

Putin’s escalation consists of his “partial” mobilization on September 21, sham referendums and imminent annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson provinces (Oblasts) which are currently occupied or partly occupied by Russia, and new and extreme nuclear threats.

The new nuclear threats link the annexation of the four provinces occupied by Ruusia to the use of nuclear weapons.

Putin goes beyond existing Russian nuclear doctrine:

Russian nuclear doctrine provides that nuclear weapons should only be used in the case of nuclear or related attack, or in a case of “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the State is threatened.”

Yet despite this existing Russian nuclear doctrine, Peggy Noonan reports, Putin declared in his speech on Wednesday, September 21 the following:

Mr. Putin said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect Russia and our people—this is not a bluff.” He announced referendums in occupied areas that will presumably result in declarations that they are Russian territory. Ukraine’s attempts to push back Russian troops can then be defined as an invasion of Russia, which Mr. Putin must defend by any and all means.

Will Putin use nuclear weapons to defend against Ukrainian advances in the Donbas and in the Kherson region?

This does not appear likely at present.

The best way to view Putin’s new threat is to view it as his staking out a claim of authority under Russian law to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine if he deems it necessary, not as a threat to actually do so in the immediate future.

He could revive the threat, nonetheless, if the Russian forces on the West side of the Dnipo river in Kherson province, whose supply lines are cut, were to face either surrender or annihilation.

This is not an unlikely scenario.

Karatnycky urges a response which implements precisely some of the measures which Putin is trying to prevent through his nuclear threats and other escalatory measures: supply Ukraine with the advanced weapons it needs to defeat the Russian army. He writes,

(T)he best answer to Mr. Putin’s surge is a Western surge in lethal military assistance to Ukraine, including tanks, fighter aircraft and long-range missiles.

Such a response will show Putin that his nuclear threats do not work, while providing the Ukranians the weapons they need.

David Von Drehle falls into the error made by many international relations “generalists” who have no understanding of international law or its impact.

He will not be the last commentator to argue for appeasement, that in the face of Putin’s nuclear threats the West should just cave in and accept Putin’s terms to stop the war.

Von Drehle simply does not grasp that a “settlement” based on “territorial concessions” would violate the most fundamental norms of the U.N. Charter and international law, and for that reason would be inherently unstable.

Many of the nations supporting Ukraine with weapons and other aid are doing so in large part to defend the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the illegal use of force and the principle that territorial gains achieved by conquest are void, and under international law can never be recognized.

The first principle represents the cornerstone of the United Nations Charter adopted in 1945, while the second, a corollary of the first, dates its origins to the 1932 Stimson doctrine (non-recognition of Manchuko) and the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing wars of aggression.

Both principles are principles of peremptory or mandatory international law (jus cogens) from which there can be no exception, not even by agreement.

The cost of appeasement by accepting “territorial concessions” would be the collapse of the international legal order, just as it was in 1938 when Ėdouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, ceding the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Germany in the face of imminent German aggression.

There is also the human cost of appeasement. Millions of people would be condemned to live under a harsh Russian dictatorship which is becoming totalitarian.

Cruising at 30,000 feet, peacemakers like Von Drehle ignore the fates of individual men and women, and the dreams of personal freedom individuals may nurture even under Russian occupation.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what the struggle is all about?

Freedom. The right of a people to determine its own path and its own future. Democracy. The Rule of law. Respect for the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations Charter. The continuing force of international law. International peace and security.

The Ukrainians have reminded us all of these values, which lie at the heart of our civilization.

There will be many like Von Drehle who argue for appeasement in response to Putin’s nuclear threats. It is important that everyone understand what such appeasement would entail.

The Trenchant Observer

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