According to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, what could be the “catastrophic consequences” of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine?
Possible responses the West could choose range from the military, including nuclear strikes, to those targeting the Russian economy.
Bob Seely, a British MP and an expert on Russia’s nuclear strategy, says the West’s response needs to be carefully assessed: “There is a difference in perception that needs to be understood. First, Russia’s tactical use of nuclear weapons is serious, but probably not met with the same criticism as in the West.
“Second, in recent Russian nuclear doctrine, tactical nuclear weapons were seen as a deterrent to Western dominance in very high-tech precision non-nuclear weapons; so they were part of a useful arsenal.
“Third, tactical nuclear weapons could be viewed as crisis calming weapons — the so-called escalation-to-de-escalation theory — triggering a nuclear weapon as a warning.”
If deployed, an appropriate military response would be to attack an airbase or intelligence center in Crimea, according to William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Likewise, “a few strikes in Russia” plus a larger number in the Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine would be appropriate, he said.
Of course, the US would not want to “go it alone” and would instead seek military support from nations like Britain and France, as it did in the attacks against Syria in 2011.
The target of a Western response would most likely be radars or intelligence and surveillance systems linked to a nuclear strike. Equally vulnerable would be Russian early warning or command and control nodes such as headquarters.
These targets would likely be in Russia itself, and not in Belarus or Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine.
“They would be reluctant to attack Russian satellites,” says Mr. Alberque, since attacking “space-based assets” has been discussed among the permanent five members of the UN Security Council and declared “prohibited”.
Retired Major General Rupert Jones says the West could offer conventional answers.
If it’s not deep enough and you make a series of moves and still end up in the deterrent game, you’re in trouble if you haven’t planned any further actions
A precision strike against a Russian Navy ship or a targeted campaign against the Moscow Air Force would be conventional responses, albeit a direct NATO attack. Whatever action has been taken, the goal must be to “ensure that there is uncertainty” about future responses.
“You would have to let the Russians guess what that might look like,” says Major Gen Jones.
It would be crucial to distinguish between “vertical” and “horizontal” escalation. A vertical escalation, an equivalent or greater strike with the same military means, would involve the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
“The West would not want vertical escalation or even a Russian nuclear strike,” says the former head of Britain’s Joint Forces Command.
“That could lose any support the action had in the UN and lose international moral superiority. You will probably think of a horizontal escalation. So that the Russians get hurt somewhere else.”
Such a response could result in Russian military capabilities being targeted in other regions of the world, such as Syria, although the geographic spread of the war poses other risks.
More likely would be an attack elsewhere in the Russian homeland or directly related to it. “Their navy and their sea lanes are very important to them,” notes Major Gen Jones, “and vulnerable.”
When it comes to defining an escalation strategy, “you have to make sure that the playbook is full”.
“If it’s not deep enough and you make a series of plays and you still end up in the deterrence game, you’re in trouble if you haven’t planned further action,” warns Major Gen Jones, adding that the use of tactical nuclear weapons may be required should not be discounted.
The world economy would also be armed. “We would say to India and China, ‘This is not what you signed up for,'” says Mr. Alberque.
Should China and India turn their backs on Russia, Putin would be “isolated” and “impoverished the Russian people.” It would “shake Putin’s power” if the two countries stopped trading the ruble.
“That would be the true price [and] much more punitive than any air strike,” he says. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/striking-back-at-vladimir-putin-responses-the-west-could-choose-range-from-nuclear-to-targeting-russias-economy-42019125.html Strike back at Vladimir Putin – the responses the West could choose range from nuclear weapons to attacks on Russia’s economy