The Pentagon is not elevating into the realms of dangerous and provocative rhetoric in response to Putin’s move to put his nuclear forces on “high alert.” Rather, DoD is choosing not to engage in posturing and verbal escalation, perhaps given the seriousness of the risks associated with the prospect of nuclear warfare.
While many are now appropriately raising questions about Putin’s state of mind and sensibilities given his deliberate actions, there are a few underlying factors to consider when it comes to the possibility of a nuclear attack.
By most available estimations and global consensus in recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not seem to be suicidal or delusional, although some might now be legitimately raising questions about this. Therefore, he is undoubtedly aware of the paradox of strategic deterrence, meaning that he is certain to be fully and quickly annihilated by Western nuclear weapons should he launch a nuclear attack.
While being cautious not to make any alarming or dramatic statements, senior Pentagon officials simply expressed confidence in the US nuclear-triad tasked with preventing nuclear war.
“On the nuke posture…. we continue to review and monitor and analyze this as best we can, and I would just tell you that we've seen nothing at this time that would give us any less comfort or confidence in our own strategic deterrence posture. I think that's as far as I can go on that,” the official said.
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Without detailing specifics for understandable security reasons, the official may have been referring to key elements of the US Nuclear Triad such as US Navy nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines. Navy submarines armed with Trident II D5 nuclear weapons quietly and secretly patrol strategically vital areas of the undersea domain to ensure a catastrophic second strike possibility in the event that the US is subject to a nuclear weapons attack. Any attacker is therefore confronted with the clear reality that any launch of nuclear weapons would likely lead to complete and total destruction of the attacker.
Knowing this, would Putin choose to have his country completely destroyed in a massive nuclear counterattack? Seems unlikely, which is why many are likely to regard his reference to “nuclear weapons on alert” may simply be posturing or what one expert called “saber rattling.” This of course is not to suggest that Putin’s threats are not taken seriously. Warrior Maven Military Analyst and Retired Lt. Col. Scott Rutter, former Battalion Task Force leader in Operation Iraqi Freedom said he would not be surprised if these situations were not being wargamed by all sides of the conflict.
“There is likely wargaming of those particular situations on both sides, on the Russian side, and on the NATO side. Ukraine also is also likely looking at this. The bottom line is it's not out of the question that he (Putin) would use a tactical nuke in order to seize off a choke point if there were some additional threats that he feels against his forces. But right now, I think it's more of him saber rattling, rattling and causing a stir. Right now he's having challenges in movement and bringing this attack collectively together,” Rutter told Warrior. Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.