For centuries, humanity has been expecting the world to end. Events that defied explanation many centuries ago, such as solar eclipses or plagues, were often seen as signs that the end time was upon humanity. Religion has only served to exacerbate such expectations. While it is often ascribed to a higher power, the end of the world would not be possible if people had not been the ones to imagine it. We should never forget that a world ending, apocalyptic event is a creation of the human mind.
Much more probable than the end of the world is the collapse of civilization as we know it. This has historical precedents in many places. One of the most famous took place in Europe and the near East following the Roman Empire’s collapse. This period known as the Dark Ages, stretched for half a millennium and was characterized by political and economic chaos along with the degeneration of architecture and the arts. Centuries worth of societal gains were lost. The Dark Ages proved that progress is not inevitable. Such a civilizational collapse is much more likely than the world coming to an end.
Risky Decisions – The Nuclear Option
This topic is relevant in light of the Ukraine – Russia War and the threat that it might turn into a nuclear conflagration. Such an outcome would set civilizational progress back to a level not seen since the Stone Age. This might seem like an extreme statement, but ever since the first nuclear bomb was detonated in 1945, the potential destruction of civilization has loomed over humanity. The threat of nuclear war has ebbed and flowed since then. For example, when the Cold War ended, the threat receded. At other times, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world teetered on the brink of destruction. That is the situation the world may be forced to confront in the coming months if and when the Russian Army in Ukraine is faced with the possibility of a resounding defeat.
At that point, Russian President Vladimir Putin could decide to go nuclear as the only way to stave off a humiliating defeat that could threaten his rule and his life. Unfortunately, Putin has already set a dangerous precedent by constantly referencing the potential use of nuclear weapons. If Putin decides to have Russia become the first nation since 1945 to detonate a nuclear weapon in a shooting war, there is no telling what the response would be from NATO. And make no mistake there would have to be a commensurate response of some sort whether nuclear or non-nuclear. The use of either option would further threaten Putin’s grip on power which could lead to more nuclear detonations. At that point the world might be caught in a death spiral.
Of course, this is the single worst outcome of the war anyone can imagine. Hopefully, cooler heads would prevail. Thankfully Russia does have a doctrine which outlines the situations in which they would use nuclear weapons. In the best case scenario the Russians would follow this doctrine. Unfortunately, since Putin is the ultimate deciding official, much of the decision comes down to him. That is a terrifying prospect. Nonetheless others would be involved in helping make that decision and carrying it out. That is why it is worth looking at the official doctrine that Russia might use in deciding whether to use nuclear weapons.
Path of Destruction – Principles & Potentials
One might imagine that a doctrine which contains the seeds of modern civilization’s destruction would be given a title to match the catastrophe it could cause. That is not the case with Russia’s doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons. Its official title is the bureaucratically bland, “Basic Principles of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Domain of Nuclear Deterrence.” The title sounds more like an academic, rather than an apocalyptic treatise. The doctrine was sealed with a formal decree enshrining it as policy on June 2, 2020 by Putin. National security analysts, military strategists, and policy wonks have been studying its finer points to gain a better understanding of Russian thresholds for using nuclear weapons. The thresholds as stated in the policy are as follows:
a) arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;
b) use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;
c) attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;
d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.
Taken at face value these points seem reasonable, but it is the actions of Russian leadership rather than their opponents that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. This is especially true when it comes to points b) c) and d). For instance, while Ukraine does not have weapons of mass destruction, there have been multiple attempts by the Russians to suggest they discovered evidence of labs where the Ukrainians were developing biological weapons with American assistance. Such stories are created to allow Putin a potential justification for the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Thus, it is a Russian action, in this case a fabrication, that could lead them down the path of nuclear war.
False flag incidents could be used by Putin to claim their adversaries were attacking critical military sites in Russia. Then again, the Russians might not even have to manufacture such stories since the Ukrainians have likely been behind some of the mysterious fires and explosions in Belgorod just across the border in Russia. The Ukrainians have been tight lipped about these operations. Of course, nothing Ukraine could destroy in critical Russian military infrastructure would rise to the level of triggering a counter-reprisal of nuclear attack, at least not by a reasonable Russian leadership. The problem as everyone knows is that Vladimir Putin is not reasonable. If he was reasonable, there would have been no Russian invasion of Ukraine in the first place.
False Flags – Self-Fulfilling Fallacies
Deterrence has been the key to keeping the world safe from nuclear war since 1945. The problem now facing the free world is how to deter Vladimir Putin and Russia’s leadership from creating justifications (false flag incidents being the primary example) that could lead to their use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine and perhaps further afield. Deterring someone hell bent on creating what amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy of Russia being attacked by NATO might be an impossible task and yet the fate of civilization as we know it may depend upon it. While nuclear war would not be the end of the world, it could lead to the end of humanity. How to weaken Russian aggression and get Putin out of power is the task that Ukraine, NATO, and like-minded nations now face. The world without Vladimir Putin leading Russia would be a better place. The world without humanity quite the opposite.
Click here for: From Impossible to Probable – NATO Expansion & Russian Insecurity (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #78)