Would Putin use "tactical nuclear weapons" to win this war?

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Would Putin use “tactical nuclear weapons” to win this war?

March 14, 2022 -

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Legendary quarterback Tom Brady made global headlines when he retired after his team lost the Super Bowl last month. However, he announced on Twitter last night, “These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands.” As a result, he stated, “I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business.”

In more normal times, this announcement might be the subject of today’s Daily Article. Or we could focus on former President Barack Obama’s report yesterday that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Or we could discuss the opening of baseball’s spring training, the NCAA basketball playoffs, or a variety of other cultural stories. We might even note that today is “Pi” Day (3.14) with $3.14 sales on pizza. 

But these are not normal times. 

In fact, they may soon become dangerous on a level we have never seen. 

Why “this is a uniquely perilous moment” 

David French is a military veteran, an attorney, and one of the most perceptive cultural commentators I know. His March 12 article in the Atlantic, “This Is a Uniquely Perilous Moment,” is subtitled: “Smaller-scale tactical nuclear weapons could bring the great powers into a brutal, deadly, and unprecedented conflict.” 

He describes “tactical nuclear weapons” as “low-yield, short-range weapons that are designed for use against military targets such as enemy airfields or columns of enemy forces.” He explains that “tactical nukes can be mounted in simple gravity bombs, on rockets, or even in artillery shells.” 

According to a 2021 Congressional Research Service report, Russia possesses close to two thousand of these weapons. By contrast, the US stores roughly one hundred nuclear weapons in Europe. 

Here’s where this news becomes even more concerning: French notes that “there is considerable evidence that use of those tactical nuclear weapons is part of contemporary Russian-military planning.” He cites reports that Russia has adopted a military strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate” or “escalate to terminate.” 

Putin could use low-yield nuclear weapons to destroy key air bases throughout Europe, attack an aircraft-carrier task force, or destroy specific army bases. As French warns, Putin’s tactical weapons “make him the first opponent that NATO allies have faced since the end of the Cold War who has the raw military capability to destroy a substantial portion of NATO forces in the field.” 

Could this be what Putin meant when he warned on February 24 that countries who interfere with his invasion of Ukraine would face “consequences you have never seen”? 

“The most dangerous confrontation of all” 

The New York Times is reporting this morning that Russia has asked China for military equipment and support for its invasion of Ukraine. The longer Ukrainian forces withstand Russia’s invasion, the more desperate Putin may become. 

If he were to use tactical nuclear weapons to defeat Ukraine, given NATO’s limited tactical nuclear arsenal, would we escalate our response? French asks, “Would we risk Washington and New York to dislodge Putin from Ukraine?” 

If Putin thinks we would not, would this embolden him to use his tactical nuclear arsenal against Ukraine? 

Here’s another scenario. Russian missiles struck a military base near the border with Poland, killing at least thirty-five people. The Associated Press reports that “the attack so near a NATO member-country raised the possibility that the alliance could be drawn into the fight.” Also, Poland’s president said yesterday that the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine by Russia would “be a game changer in the whole thing.” 

If NATO forces entered the conflict and Putin responded with tactical nuclear strikes, what would come next? Again, would the US risk our cities to defend NATO forces? 

French concludes: “It’s one thing to confront a potential nuclear conflict when both sides know they’ll lose. Mutual assured destruction kept the peace even during the darkest days of the Cold War. It’s another thing entirely to confront a potential nuclear conflict when one side believes it can win. That’s the most dangerous confrontation of all, and we may be close to that now.” 

The paradoxical best way to live every day 

Dr. Lane Ogden’s outstanding paper, How to manage fear in a time of crisis, was written at my request and published on our website earlier this morning. 

Dr. Ogden is a brilliant psychologist and the person I recommend whenever someone in the Dallas area asks me to direct them to a counseling professional. His paper offers biblical reflections and practical steps you and I can take today in responding to the fears we face. His paper is so timely because the threats we face are so significant.  

In such times, the Christian faith offers a unique perspective that can empower our courage and attract others to our Lord. 

Unlike our secular friends, we know that this world is not our home: “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We also know that “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). 

As a result, we can face the perils of our broken world by trusting Jesus’ promise, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). 

Paradoxically, the best way to live every day is to be prepared to die every day. To live with our sins confessed, our relationships healthy, and our lives fully yielded to our Lord and Master is not only the best way to die—it is the best way to live. 

The Puritan Thomas Watson warned, “Let them fear death who do not fear sin.” 

Which do you fear today?

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