Defense expert Ko Colijn has been providing the Dutch with information on armed conflicts for almost fifty years. For NU.nl, he follows the match in Ukraine and answers our (and your) questions. This time he discusses the possible use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. According to him, a lot is happening in that area.
The chance of Russia using a nuclear weapon may not be that great, but outside of Russia there is a lot of movement in that area. This week, at first glance, less for use in Ukraine itself, but because of the war, countries are talking much more about the use of nuclear weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised last week by saying that using nuclear weapons against Ukraine was “not the highest priority”. You almost wanted to believe him too.
The use of these weapons had been banned there since Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons to Russia in 1994. In return, Russia promised to leave Ukraine alone. Putin also has nothing to gain militarily from mass destruction with nuclear weapons.
In addition, he risks those weapons not working. In addition, he would hunt many in the curtain and give his country a definitive pariah status in the world.
Putin ignores pressure and bluffs
His own hawks are pushing him to use one or more nuclear weapons. Chechen mogul Ramzan Kadyrov says so openly. But many military bloggers (mil bloggers, the best helmsmen in the country) also say that Russia should force Ukraine to its knees in this way, taboo or not.
Russian military doctrine says that this is also possible if the very existence of the motherland is at stake. But Putin seems to be ignoring those noises for now.
And he’s bluffing. It causes all the more nuclear effect abroad, causing Putin to achieve the opposite of his tough talk. Things that were unmentionable for decades suddenly come into being talk about town. For example, ministers used to maintain secrecy about the storage of nuclear weapons, but they are now less frantic about it.
The US has several ways to help countries with nuclear weapons
The US has roughly three ways to “help” countries that want to deter the Russians with nuclear weapons. They have much of their own in house, but do not shy away from directing forward aircraft or ships that (can) carry nuclear weapons.
The US made the decision to send B-52 bombers to Australia. The nearly 100-year-old (but constantly updated) nuclear-capable aircraft have already flown to Europe to take part in NATO’s Steadfast Noon exercise.
At the end of October, it was announced that the so-called Life Extended B61-12–version (modern nuclear weapons, which our F-35-JSF will also receive) is transported early to Western Europe; it will now be December 2022. The original planning was mid-2023, the more realistic planning was 2025. So something is going on behind the scenes.
Traditionally, the United States has so-called nuclear sharing agreements. These are controversial agreements with host countries to provide nuclear weapons to NATO allies in time of war.
It has been leaked in recent weeks that the US has not five but seven such agreements (including with Greece and Turkey). Even aspiring NATO members like Sweden and Finland have volunteered to host nuclear weapons. There are already nine, and it is an open secret that Eastern European member states are also opening their doors.
The US wants to “promote” countries to become permanent hosts of nuclear weapons
Then the USA has a system with extended deterrence: the deployment of a ‘nuclear umbrella’ over countries at risk, such as Japan and South Korea. There are calls to “promote” such countries to permanent host countries for US nuclear weapons, if only to prevent those countries from starting their own nuclear program. Pandora’s box has been opened.
Finally, a very important document appeared in the United States at the end of October, the Nuclear Posture Review 2022. One of the most notable statements is that the US will be the first to use nuclear weapons against “fundamental threats”.
Putin’s war is getting very much underway
Putin’s war certainly contributed to US President Joe Biden being so late with it. He believed for a while that he would only use the US nuclear weapon to deter a nuclear weapon, not against a fundamental threat.
So it’s messy everywhere. Putin has not yet dared to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but he has succeeded in getting many other countries to act in that area.