The tough-talk politicians in Washington and pundits in the media who are mindlessly calling for establishment of a US or US/NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine to allegedly deter Russian planes from bombing Ukrainian cities, or to “protect” Ukrain’s 15 nuclear reactors are nuts, and fortunately are so far not being listened to.
There are two things we can be glad about in this madness of war between Russia and Ukraine: One is that President Biden and the leaders of NATO countries in Europe all made it clear as Russia was amassing troops and heavy military equipment along its own and the Belarus borders with Ukraine that they would not be sending troops to defend Ukraine if Russia were to invade (they continue to hold that position even since the invasion began). The other is that both Russia and the US have huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, many mounted on missiles that can reach each other’s homeland and decimate it, and that if launched, would take the rest of the world down with them.
It is only those two things that have prevented this conflict from becoming a repeat of World Wars I and II, when mutual assistance treaties among countries in Europe (like NATO’s Article 5 today), and the lack of an existential reality of global destruction, led to attacks against one country leading inexorably to a world-wide conflagration.
Let me state this right now: There is no horror that one country can perpetrate upon another that can justify the risking of global nuclear war that would involve the exploding of thousands of nuclear bombs, and that instead of “just” resulting in the deaths of millions or tens of millions, would murder billions of humans and perhaps end life on Earth.
For 77 years since the US dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a span of three days in early August 1945 up to now, there has been no other nuclear bomb exploded in war, and equally significant, no great power head-to-head war between nuclear-armed nations.
The US and the Soviet Union have been involved on the opposite side of many conflicts over those years in which surrogates were armed and supported by each of these rival nations, but their own troops have not been directly killing each other. The reason is obvious; Once Russians start killing American soldiers, or US soldiers start killing Russian troops, it would be incumbent on the other side to up the ante. And once one side of such an expanding conflict began to win, the other side would inevitably turn to nukes to try and stave off defeat. Then, as wargaming on both sides has routinely demonstrated, it would be a matter of days or even hours before one side would decide to launch a major nuclear attack, probably in hopes of getting its rockets and bombers airborne before the other side decided to do the same thing first. (The US has stated that it would not be the second country to launch nukes in a crisis, but the first for this very reason. Russia no doubt has the same policy.)
I’ve been a producer on a film, nearing completion, about Ted Hall, hired onto the Manhattan Project at 18 in early 1944 as the youngest physicist at Los Alamos. Within nine months working on the implosion system of the plutonium bomb, he decided to become a spy for the Soviet Union, which despite being America’s key ally in the battle against Nazi Germany, was being kept in the dark about the atomic bomb development project. Hall, on his own initiative, and with the help of his Harvard roommate Saville Sax, concluded (I believe absolutely correctly!) that it was urgent that some country with the willingness to stand up to the US needed to also have the bomb after the war because he rightly feared what the US, with a post-war monopoly on the atomic bomb, would use it not just preemptively against the USSR, but also to dominate the rest of the countries around the globe.
It was Hall’s hope that if two nations like the US and USSR had the bomb, the horror of its power, and the inability to use it without the other side’s being able to respond in kind, would lead to a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, much like what happened with chemical weapons after WWI. Instead, what his and other atomic spies’ efforts did was create the now three-quarter-century-long stalemate of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), in which a growing number of nuclear nations (nine at this point), have nuclear weapons but cannot use them for fear of being targeted themselves in response.
MAD is admittedly a very risky kind of war deterrence to be counting on. Indeed, the last eight decades are replete with instances where it almost didn’t work, with only last-minute intervention by saner heads in national leaderships, or thanks to the courageous action of some individual, as in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. MAD has also created an incredibly costly situation with each side building more and more bombs and trying to design ever more costly delivery systems hoping to find a way to defeat the enemy while denying that enemy a chance to retaliate.
But despite the risks and the wasteful spending of trillions of dollars, it is undeniable that nuclear weapons and the reality of MAD are the only reason that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has not spun out of control already into a head-on war between Russia and the US and its NATO allies. Were it not for MAD and the fear of nuclear war, by this point the number of dead killed by conventional weapons would already be in the tens of thousands or perhaps vastly more, as huge armies, navies and air forces would be clashing across Europe, likely in the Pacific, in Russia itself and perhaps in the US too.
Some may disagree with this line of thinking, but I for one am grateful for the fear of nuclear war that has kept this conflict so far confined to the borders of Ukraine, as unfortunate as that is for the people of that nation. And I am hopeful that at some point Ukraine’s government will reach the conclusion that the US is not going to come riding in like the cavalry to defend them against Russia and that they are going to have to settle for some kind of peace that will involve Ukraine’s remaining a “neutral” country under the control of Russia, with no chance of becoming a part of Europe and especially of NATO.
That dream of some in Ukraine, irresponsibly encouraged by the US, which backed a 2014 violent coup designed to create such a situation, is what led to this war, and unless Ukraine wants to become another Iraq or Syria, whose cities have been reduced to dust by incessant bombing, or to see millions killed in a hopeless lengthy war of guerrillas vs. the Russian army, it will come to some arrangement acceptable to Russia, which holds most of the cards.
I’m heartened to read that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he wants peace, not for Ukraine to become another Sparta, remembered for its soldiers’ heroic but suicidal stand against an overwhelming Persian assault and that he is willing to agree to a neutral Ukraine never to be a part of NATO or a base for US weapons and military bases.
Hopefully, such a deal can be struck soon so this bloody and stupid conflict can be ended before more innocent people and soldiers on both sides have to die. The world can deal with Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine later after the killing stops.
Meanwhile, since protests against Russia in the US are meaningless in terms of changing Russian war policy, we in the United States should be praising the incredible courage of anti-war activists in Russia who are risking brutal arrest and harsh sentenced to years in prison for calling for President Putin to end the invasion of Ukraine, and focusing our own efforts on demanding that the US support the creation of a neutral Ukraine and agree not to provocatively admit any further nations near Russia’s borders into NATO, including of course, Ukraine.