That is the question on the minds of many people as they consider the possibilities of open war breaking out between America et al. and Russia et al.
Would conventional war between the United States and the Russian Federation inevitably lead to a nuclear clash?
A great many people are convinced that it would. I understand their reasoning. And I can certainly envision multiple plausible scenarios that might very well lead to such an outcome.
I will discuss a few of them further below. But first a few thoughts in preface:
Resorting to nuclear weapons is a "point-of-no-return" decision.
It's a murder-suicide move
And I strongly doubt any of the great nuclear powers are suicidal. I have also long entertained the admittedly romantic notion that both the Americans and the Russians would much prefer to test their mettle mano a mano on the field of conventional battle.
The Americans fancy themselves the greatest empire and the mightiest military power the world has ever seen. American folklore (the word for “history” in American English) has imbued them with the conviction that Americans are a great and noble warrior nation.
Religious and irreligious; ascetic and hedonistic; rich and poor — and all points in between — the vast majority of Americans subscribe to an ontological ethos that provided that the exceptionalism of America and its unique mission to spread freedom and democracy across the globe.
Russians, on the other hand, see themselves as yet again the target of a messianic western hegemon that despises them as inferior, and covets the almost limitless natural treasures of their vast territory.
Russians also see themselves — and justifiably so — as the decisive victor in great wars against a messianic western hegemon in both the 19th and 20th centuries. From their perspective here in the 21st century, they are facing yet a third iteration of this centuries-old conflict.
In other words, Russia is convinced they are already engaged in war against the American Empire, and it has the same existential quality they associate with the previous attempts to conquer and divide them.
Consequently, they have been furiously preparing since early summer 2022 for the distinct possibility that, sooner or later, the Americans would feel compelled to escalate beyond the machinations of sustaining a proxy force, and would directly intervene militarily in order to “save the day”.
Nine months later the Russians have continued to methodically grind down the empire’s proxy army. They have decisively repulsed and comprehensively destroyed the third and final reconstitution of its NATO-supplied strength.
And contrary to the widespread belief among the misinformed masses of “experts” and casual observers in the west, Russia has not suffered a “strategic defeat” nor has its military capability and its productive capacity been diminished.
From a military and industrial standpoint, Russia is stronger, relative to its adversaries, than at any time since the height of Soviet power, and its progress towards even greater strength is accelerating.
And, perhaps most significantly, Russian sense of purpose and unity has not, since the Great Patriotic War, been embraced with such conviction by such a high percentage of the Russian populace.
They devoutly believe their cause is just
And although history attests the Russians can often be slow to harness, once they become a team in harmony, they transform into a nimble, heavy-fisted, and highly resourceful military force.
By deliberately bringing to pass this war in Ukraine, the fools calling the shots in the halls of empire have instead brought into being a confident and assertive Russia that has tripled in relative strength over the past two years of high-intensity conflict.
Whereas the US and its European NATO vassals have seen their arsenals severely attrited and the mediocrity of their fragile and inefficacious machines exposed over the past two years, Russian equipment has proven durable and highly effective for the required tasks of 21st century industrial warfare, even as they have rapidly achieved an industrial scale of war production.
And whereas the supposed geniuses of NATO have seen three successive iterations of their material and tactical handiwork get systematically shredded by the Russian way of war, the Russians have adapted, innovated, and produced at scale to a degree the west simply cannot match now, and could not act to match anytime soon.
So that’s where we stand here in early 2024
The Russians are winning the war in Ukraine, and winning it big. They will, on whatever timetable they choose, dictate the terms of its ultimate resolution.
On the broader geopolitical and diplomatic front, they are winning the war even bigger.
As are the Chinese and the Iranians.
The Russia, China, Iran axis that is rapidly solidifying is, by far, the most potent adversary western hegemony has faced since its inception centuries ago.
And that brings us to my list of plausible scenarios for nuclear war
The only plausible scenarios I can envision for nuclear war presuppose the first use will be initiated by the #EmpireAtAllCosts cult.
Russia has no need to resort to nuclear weapons. It is securely fixed on a trajectory to total victory — even if the US et al. prove foolish enough to intervene directly in a conventional war against them.
The most unpredictable and therefore worrisome scenario entails tactical nuclear weapons being introduced into the Ukraine war via some rogue actor.
There are several prohibitive logistical and tactical considerations that come to my mind when I consider this possibility, but in the final analysis it occurs to me there is only one reality that matters:
ANY detonation of a nuclear weapon against a Russian target will be automatically regarded, by the Russians, as a nuclear first strike by the US/NATO.
Therefore, providing Ukraine with nuclear weapons would be tantamount to intentionally provoking a full-scale nuclear counterstrike.
Is there some locus of power in the world that is able and willing to do such a thing?
I sure hope not.
As for all the other plausible scenarios for nuclear war — scenarios involving deliberate state actors — I can only repeat what I wrote at the beginning:
Resorting to nuclear weapons is a "point-of-no-return" decision. It's a murder-suicide move. And I strongly doubt any of the great nuclear powers are suicidal.
At least not yet.