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I see no rational solution to the nuclear dilemma. Madman Putin may use his weapons. Perhaps limited, perhaps devastating.

If Putin acts, the west will have to respond. I pray for an alternative solution, but all I have is goodwill toward my neighbors and the hope that goodwill will triumph.

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I feel like it behooves you to give some more specifics about how you think we ought to respond to Russian nuclear use. Do you mean respond with nuclear weapons?

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I have no specifics that are worth revealing. The DoD must be gaming out strategies that include nuclear weapons in more ways than I can imagine. Once in a while, goodwill triumphs. The rapidity of the development and testing of the covid vaccines astounded me. I hope to be amazed again by this war, but I have no idea how and it's only hope, not certainty.

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I hope I’m wrong, but I think you overestimate the DoD’s competence. If you just skim the Afghan papers you realize that there was absolutely nothing resembling objective goals or even broad strategy during our 20 years there. Top generals had no idea where millions of dollars were going. Perhaps nuclear war is different, but the entire debacle in Afghanistan was extremely revealing. The people in charge are usually more motivated by hubris than rational decision making. So I have very little hope that if Putin went nuclear that we would respond in a way that was rational, well thought out, and meant to limit the carnage over the short or long term.

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I certainly feel good about having someone as experienced as Biden to manage this crisis. I agree he’s rational and understands the magnitude of the situation and how careful his administration needs to be. My only worry is with his age and the decline in energy/cognitive abilities he may be delegating more power to less experienced cabinet members. I would not feel good at all with Kamala Harris being the main one at the negotiating table.

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Of course it means that. Biden has made that very clear.

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"The nuclear planner and two other senior officers who spoke to Newsweek say that President Biden favors non-nuclear options over nuclear ones, should Russia cross the nuclear threshold."

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newsweek.com/2022/10/14/biden-thinks-non-nuclear-threats-will-stop-putin-his-military-doesnt-1747343.html%3famp=1

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Oct 4, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

It's tough - but the general solution to me seems to be a global treaty leading to dramatic reduction of nuclear weapons everywhere (enough to prevent global catastrophe) in combination with a Western-led effort to actually democratize unstable governments across the world (especially those capable of producing/with nuclear weapons). This combined with increased research towards technology designed to intercept nuclear missiles/contain radiation might help as well.

Perhaps it is almost impossible. How do we get China, or especially Russia, to reduce their nuclear arsenals? On top of that, there is good reason people are skeptical of American/Western foreign intervention, but at least on that front we can rebuild our reputation. But as you said, as of right now, letting nuclear threats win territory can set a disastrous precedent for future world peace.

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Democracies have used nukes. Or rather one has. And the democratisation of the world is a fools game. What would it involve - war against Iran, China, Russia and North Korea at a minimum.

( But not Saudi obviously. ).

Putin was elected, as suspect as those elections were, I’m fairly sure that he would have won unaided.

The solution here is to convince the generals in Russia that Putin has to go if he orders a nuclear attack. This is not a pro democratic move.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

Democracies never used nukes against other democracies, and in fact they barely ever used conventional weapons against other democracies.

This being said I don’t believe there’s a practical way to democratize everyone.

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The US, Russia, China, Britain & France (and India and Pakistan) would all need to uniformly reduce their stockpiles. Probably with the US & Russia taking the lead, with the smaller nuclear states eliminating stockpiles once the US & Russia were low enough.

I don't know why the will isn't there but I want it to happen.

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Maybe we simply have to wait until the old guys die out... When the generation of Putin dies, the Russians will have no real living experience of the USSR as a superpower, and will probably cease to see itself as the world's greatest empire and agree to reduce its nuclear arsenal to the level of UK and France...

Considering that when Putin was at my age [1981~1982], USSR was in many ways, such as nuclear arsenal, the No.1 power of the world, it would be very hard for Putin and his generation to swallow the fact that the empire is gone. Recall "Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance", the invasion of Ukraine is the "bargaining" phase...

It does beg another important question. Why was Russia allowed to be recognized as the sole successor of USSR, given the importance of Ukraine in USSR politics and economy? The USSR was in many ways "Russian-Ukrainian Commonwealth", and why was Ukraine's role under-appreciated?

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

> Why was Russia allowed to be recognized as the sole successor of USSR

Ukraine negotiated a deal with Russia. Ukraine handed over all of its nukes in exchange for a promise of protection by Russia.

That... didn't work out.

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The other, more pessimistic scenario is what Vamik Volkan calls "chosen trauma."

Volkan noted that one of the animating causes of the Yugoslavian dissolution and civil war for the Serbs was the 1389 Battle of Kosovo and the death of Serbian Prince Lazar. The war loss and the prince's death was a grudge held for 600 years and the war was a cry for redemption from history.

If Russians see the Ukraine invasion as a management failure on Putin's part but the mission itself as just and worthy, you're going to see a similar chosen trauma and humiliation-redemption dynamic take root. The absence of lived memory might make an angry, young political generation refight this war.

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To the extent there is a solution it is basically what the Ukrainians are doing now. You will notice that they haven't bent even an inch in response to the nuclear threats. This is admirably courageous but also logical. If they seemed to waver, offer talks etc then it would greatly incentive the Russians to strike to obtain a surrender. As it is one must assume that a limited nuclear strike would not stop their resistance. They are fatalistic about it in a way. It is the only proper response.

At the global level that is pretty much what we need to do as well. Disincentivise and accept the risks we must. I'm sceptical of solutions here. 'Agreements' may just as easily create the conditions for a nuclear first strike as prevent them.

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People always leave China out of this Russia focused analysis.

Right now, China has nuclear weapons. South Korea and Japan do not.

If Russia were to use a low yield tactical nuke or a big nuke or a nuke of any kind, Japan and South Korea would get themselves nukes within weeks. They have the tech and the plutonium stockpiles, they just choose not to.

This is the absolute apocalypse for China.

There is no way that China hasn't communicated to Russia, in private, all of the horrible consequences for Russia that China will bring down on their heads should nukes be used.

China isn't the only one.

Israel has kept largely neutral so as not to clash with the Russians in Syria. Israel is the size of a postage stamp, they have a massive interest in not normalizing the use of nuclear weapons. If Russia uses a nuclear weapon, I think Israel ends the existence of every single Russian in Syria. They probably have communicated this to the Kremlin.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

I doubt that Israel, being the size of a postage stamp, would even think about making threats to retaliate against Russia on Ukraine’s behalf. So far Israel is reluctant to even send helmets to Ukraine. But I agree with the China part.

Also Russia is reportedly way behind the US on tactical nukes. Should think twice about setting this precedent.

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In hindsight it is very questionable whether the collapse of USSR is a good thing for world peace and human civilization or not. Yes, the Russian Federation is somewhat more free and democratic than USSR, but it also replaced an ideology that at least claims itself to be progressive with nihilism, and replaced "collective leadership" [maybe it had something to do with the Ukrainian roots of Brezhnev?] with Putin's one-man dictatorship.

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It was unquestionably good for many components of the USSR (the Baltic states, I'd argue Ukraine, Georgia, and so forth). The end of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact was unquestionably good for those other nations.

The Russian Federation is, sadly, another story. But it's still better to be a Russian under Putin than Stalin. Not a high bar, admittedly.

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The RF is much less free and democratic than late USSR.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

"Putin has shown no willingness to negotiate any sort of peace settlement" - completely and totally untrue to the point of being misinformation. Putin was asking for negotiations before the war, negotiated one in March/April that apparently the UK told Ukraine to pull out of, and has persistently been signaling his desire for negotiations ever since.

However, he has not been saying he would agree to the terms the U.S. wants, which would presumably involve withdrawing from Crimea, no Ukraine neutrality, changes in NATO posture, etc. etc. You can say we shouldn't change our terms but it's simply not true that Putin is unwilling to negotiate on any terms.

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The truth here is that the US has shown no interest in negotiating a peace settlement.

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It’s not “negotiating a settlement” to say “give me your territory or I’ll use my nukes”

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Oct 5, 2022·edited Oct 5, 2022

It is a tough situation with no safe, pleasant way out. I believe that yielding to nuclear blackmail used offensively would be a fatal mistake however for a number of reasons:

1) If you allow yourself to be extorted, you yell "extort me more". What if he demands the whole of Ukraine, Kazachstan, the baltic countries? What if he demands to stop using renewables or to hand over political refugees? Where do we draw the line, if not now?

2) It would create a terrible precedent to other nuclear armed (or yet to be nuclear armed) countries with expansive ambitions. Prepare for economic sanctions, threaten with nukes, win.

3) It would undermine every attempt of non-proliferation in different ways by making nuclear weapons more attractive:

i) Nukes for offensive use, see 2)

ii) It undermines trust in security guarantees and shows that, unless you have your own nuclear weapons, nuclear powers can attack you while the rest of the world backs down.

iii) It shows that even an overwhelmingly powerful conventional military is useless if the enemy can force concessions by the threat of nuclear escalation.

Do we really want to live in a world where Iran, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, VAE and many others develop nuclear weapons as a survival guarantee, resulting in a number of mini cold wars?

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I actually made an argument to my members of Congress and the Senate, in DC, lobbying on behalf of the MN Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, before the first Persian Gulf War, that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, if the United States wields it's lone Superpower status, it could invite countries who formerly relied on their ability to play the two Superpowers against each other, may find it necessary to develop their own nuclear deterrent. I argued that this first post-Cold War conflict could serve as a model for a new way for the world to deal with renegade dictators who invaded other countries.

Then I watched as Iraq lobbed SCUD missiles at Israel, attempting a strategic response, and failing. I knew at that moment that these "non-aligned" nations would begin to seek nuclear weapons unless they wanted to at the mercy of a United States dominated foreign policy. When Bush named Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the "Axis of Evil" then invaded Iraq, it was obvious that Iran and North Korea needed to develop nuclear weapons to deter US intimidation or invasion.

My proposal was for the United States to recognize its position and work MORE closely with international organizations, such as the UN. Now George HW Bush, did do a pretty good job in the first Gulf War of pulling together an large coalition of nations, but not the United Nations, and also kept the United States firmly in command. His son, however, in attacking Iraq in 2003, did the thing that I feared most in late 1990.

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It's my understanding that most of the risks of nuclear winter are dramatically overstated. The particles in the upper atmosphere in these scenarios come from firestorms in targeted cities, not from the detonations themselves. Modern cities no longer have the density of flammable material required to sustain a firestorm.

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But what about radioactive particles being carried by wind, or leaching into soil and groundwater?

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Also overstated. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are inhabited and ground zeros are open to visitors today. Admittedly, it doesn't hurt that the airborne fallout mostly went over the Pacific, but the plain fact is that they are habitable on net despite all the various effects of a nuclear attack.

Also, the extent of nuclear testing vastly outpaced even a moderate hypothetical nuclear exchange. Thousands of bombs were detonated, and yes, the worst cases have left chunks of the Nevada and other deserts relatively uninhabitable, but we basically *had* the equivalent of a "nuclear war" from 1945-1960 and the planet's more or less no worse for wear (well, at least not directly because of the tests).

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I think this can be bad locally. But hundreds of above ground tests happened in the U.S. in the 50's and 60's without catastrophic consequences for people nearby. Not great! But not civilization-altering.

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I live in Japan and have known many people who experienced the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. America forbid any mention of the destruction until 1955. But two friends of mine were artists who documented everything they saw there. They had to hide their paintings for many years. If you are interested you can see their artwork and read their story here:

Maruki Gallery For The Hiroshima Panels

https://marukigallery.jp/en/about/

Iri and Toshi Maruki | Maruki Gallery For The Hiroshima Panels

https://marukigallery.jp/en/about/maruki/

They have passed away but their museum exists to remind people of the horrors of nuclear war. I used to sit in their kitchen and listen to their first hand stories - the victims screaming in agony while their skin was falling off, jumping into the river thinking it would lessen their pain - but water only intensified it. Soon the river was polluted with hundreds of rotting, bloated bodies. But now, nuclear weapons are much more powerful. What will become of us???

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"...the paradox of this society is that you cannot even die in it any more since you are already dead... This is real suspense. And it is not simply an effect of living in the nuclear age, but derives from the ease with which we now live, which makes survivors of us all. If the bomb drops, we shall neither have the time to die nor any awareness of dying. But already in our hyper-protected society we no longer have any awareness of death, since we have subtly passed over into a state where life is excessively easy..."

"It seems that people have become tired of nuclear blackmail and decided not to give in to it, leaving the threat of destruction hanging in mid-air over them, perhaps with an obscure sense of how unreal it is. A fine example of a vital reaction disguised as resignation. 'If we have to die, better to die in open air than in an underground sarcophagus.' At a stroke, an end is put to survival blackmail and life can go on.

"Everyone is weary of apocalyptic visions – the great scenario of the nuclear threat, the theatrical negotiations, 'Star Wars'. In the end, they defend themselves with a lack of imagination. Even attempts to stimulate that imagination in films... have not worked. Nothing has ever been able to make this nuclear scene – or obscenity – credible. With delicate matters like this (like with cancer), imaging death has the effect of bringing the fatal event closer. The masses' silent indifference to nuclear pathos (whether it comes from nuclear powers or anti-nuclear campaigners) is therefore a sign of great hope and a political fact of the utmost importance."

– Jean Baudrillard, "America", 1988

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The extreme left in democracies always used the nuclear terror as a ground for appeasement with the USSR. Many were sponsored by them or were simply allies of Marxist regimes in democratic countries.

As their last hopes for a powerful, all-conquering Marxism are still in Russia and China they will make similar noises. E.g. we must stop supporting Ukraine because nuclear terror.

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Russia and China are among the least likely locations for the rebirth of marxism. As noted below it is the far right that hangs its hopes on Russia and China, as the only reactionary regimes powerful enough to seriously challenge the West. When marxists say they’re worried about nuclear war it’s usually because… they are worried about nuclear war.

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True but there is still what comes next.

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The US has been playing nuclear brinksmanship with Russia for a few years now. We should stop doing that.

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No, we have not been playing nuclear brinksmanship at all. We never threaten to use nukes.

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The US has said that should Russia employ a nuclear device they would wipe out all of Russias military bases and Black Sea fleet without having resorting to nuclear. The unknown is the extent of Putin’s delusions.

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Then why doesn't US do it. All they do is go back and forth playing their war games.

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NO....I'm Not. But, JOE and his Communist Regime keep poking the BEAR. JOE is the one

coming out with wild comments, because he's JOE who doesn't know.

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This Joe you keep referring to… is he in the room with you right now?

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

That’s not at all true, though, we do regularly. The White House has repeatedly, though not very bluntly, noted that we have a deterrent too and would defend NATO in response to threats from Putin.

What we haven’t been doing is nuclear *compellence*, this “give me what I want or I’ll nuke you” move that’s giving us all so much heartburn now.

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Except implicitly, by reserving the right to use them if a conventional conflict goes badly. "No first use" would withdraw that threat.

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Oct 8, 2022·edited Oct 8, 2022

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily [use] a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon,” -Biden

I don’t know how you don’t interpret that as a threat to use nukes.

The crazy part is that Putin has never threatened to use nuclear weapons. The closest he got was saying he would consider “all weapons available” which could fairly be considered a threat to perhaps use them.

Which we responded to with escalation. Detente is not a word you hear anymore in the Western press (propaganda) anymore. Why not?

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The Mad(wo)man Theory is certainly something to worry about.

There must be other events which might be worthy of equal attention -- for instance, a simple system failure.

Has anyone ever calculated the odds of a major / minor nuclear exchange as a function of a range of variables?

Joseph Nye has what seems to me a generally optimistic view of the problem in https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/is-nuclear-war-inevitable/

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The key point here, in our current situation, was made by Obama in 2016: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/

"Obama’s theory here is simple: Ukraine is a core Russian interest but not an American one, so Russia will always be able to maintain escalatory dominance there.

“The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,” he said."

To elaborate the point vividly, imagine the reaction if Russia does resort to limited nuclear use in Ukraine. I think in the US you would see runs on supermarkets, flight from major cities and a general outcry that the American people don't want to die for Ukraine. That would not be the reaction of the Russian people.

So yes, I think you do back down in Ukraine. ("Back down" here doesn't mean you just straight-up retreat, but you retaliate mildly enough that you know there won't be further escalation and then you draw down your involvement.)

But the same reasoning doesn't apply to any (or at least not to many) more possible battlefields. As a general rule of thumb, I'd say the farthest we should go in Ukraine is a conventional proxy war like the one we're fighting now, and if we can't win without going beyond that line, we have to let it go. Also, "winning" needs to be defined as something that wouldn't trigger a Russian nuclear response--so no re-taking Crimea.

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I agree that Xi will do everything he can to prevent it. I don't think that will stop Putin if he judges that his regime will fall if he doesn't push the button though. That's why a Ukrainian victory is the scariest scenario.

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Today, North Korea shot a ballistic missile over Japan. Kim and Trump are good buddies... Putin, also Trump’s good buddy, has been threatening nuclear strikes on Ukraine. Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. But the scariest part is that Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/almost-everything-in-dr-strangelove-was-true

Germany is celebrating German Unity Day, the official acknowledgment that the East and West were no longer divided. I remember when the Wall came down very clearly because I had many friends in East Germany and Eastern Europe. Suddenly they were free! It happened so fast and rather unexpectedly. Things can change one way or another in the blink of an eye.

What will this world be like a year from now?

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