Opinion: Playing with nuclear fire?

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The brutal reality and dilemma of the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war asserted itself at the recent NATO summit in Vilnius (July11/ 12th): US President Biden put a halt for the time being, on Ukraine’s desire to join NATO  that has been  fervently pushed by Poland and the Baltic states as well as by some hawks in the West. The essential message given by Biden was along the line that he had previously given in an interview to CNN. In the interview he had stated that the US does not want to promise Kiev to join NATO. If an access to NATO was given, “then we all would be at war.” Biden gave no timeline but emphasized that after the end of the war certain “conditions” should be fulfilled by Ukraine, “including democratization and some other themes of that kind.” One could show the country a “rational way” which it has to take in order to qualify for NATO accession. “If there is an agreement, a ceasefire, a peace agreement” the US would offer Ukraine “security guarantees” like the ones offered by the US to Israel. (Weapon deliveries giving the country the capacity to defend itself, which according to FAZ [12.July] ,was used by Israel to buy US weapons like F- 35 US fighter jets from Lockheed Martin – the most modern fighter jet of the world which also can carry nuclear weapons E.H) The Ukraine was promised to become member of a “Ukraine- NATO council” that held its first meeting in Vilnius.

In addition a G -7 Security guarantee resolution was signed, entitled  “Special bilateral and long term security guarantees and arrangement,”  that includes financial aid, modern weapon deliveries, secret service information exchange, as well as means to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capacity and cyber deterrence. President Zelenskyy who at the beginning of the summit had vehemently criticized President Biden’s decision, at the end qualified the summit as an important “signal” on Ukraine’s way into NATO adding that “nobody wants a world war.”(!)

In this light we should look at the “opinion column” from WAPO senior Journalist David Ignatius (8th July) who before going to Vilnius reported about a background briefing that was given by NSC advisor Jake Sullivan. Essentially Sullivan had discussed that “there is a lot, which the US still doesn’t know concerning the dynamics that shape this war. (…)The fundamental question that Biden and his advisors have weighed since the invasion was launched February 2022 is: How can the United States and its NATO partners help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion without triggering a direct NATO-Russia conflict that might lead to use of nuclear weapons?” According to Ignatius, Sullivan “rebuffed the ‘don’t worry approach’ coming from the hawks who insist that nuclear threat from Russia is complete nonsense.” Sullivan stated in his briefing that “it is a threat. It is a real threat. It’s one we need to take seriously. And it’s one that doesn’t evolve with changing conditions on the ground. As the philosophers say, this issue of nuclear risk is contingent. It’s never inevitable and impossible.”

Concerning the contingencies of this conflict, which presumably would center on a Russia tactical nuclear attack, if Ukraine breaks through and Russian conventional forces are collapsing, Sullivan noted during the briefing that China and India “see it similarly” and are “trying to indicate to Russia that it would be a terrible move for Russia……to actually deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.”  Ignatius concluded with the cynical note that “thanks to US delivery of cluster bombs, the Ukraine will have enough ammunition for this “waiting game” (the hope for a major military breakthrough of Ukraine at the front)  and a “wider window for success.”

Another indicative sign for the dilemma which the US and NATO are facing was an article in “New Atlanticist” (Atlantic Council, 11.July) that was signed by Jacques Lanxade (former joint chief of staff of the French Armed Forces who also served as defense advisor to French President Francois Mitterand); Denis Mc Shane ( former UK minister of Europe and former UK delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO); by Margarita Mathiopoulos (defense expert and professor emerita of US foreign and international security at Potsdam University) and by Gen. Klaus Naumann (who served as chairman of the military committee of NATO and was joint chief of staff of the German Armed Forces.) Under the headline “Europe needs a nuclear deterrent of its own,” the article essentially stated that “Europe needs a credible nuclear deterrence of its own under NATO command (!). Only a trilateral British, French and German nuclear umbrella, combined with a US umbrella, all under the command and control of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) will be a credible deterrent for Russia.

This would require that France and Germany find a solution for equipping their joint Future Combat Air System- a new generation of advanced fighter jets – and the German F- 35 dual capable aircraft with French nuclear weapons. Germany would not have its own nuclear weapons, so this arrangement would not violate the Nuclear- Non Proliferation treaty.” It advised that Germany had to break the taboo and accept a wider share in European nuclear deterrence. “This then is the moment to start a debate in Berlin, Paris and London about a trilateral French, British and German nuclear European Defense Initiative  and the responsibility of these three powers to protect Europe if art 5 is invoked in a worst case scenario.”

This indicates that in reality nobody is determined in the West to confront the reality of this war and think about options for a peaceful way out of the war. What the recent Vilnius Summit revealed was the huge dilemma that the West is facing: This includes deep cracks within NATO, while after one and a half years of war  Ukraine is in a deplorable economic, financial state- essentially in ruins, with 8 Mio refugees, and almost 150.000 Ukrainian soldiers dead as well as 100.000 on the Russian side as result of this terrible “war of attrition,” in which Russia according to an article by Prof. Mearsheimer from June 23rd “will have the upper hand and win.”  This war according to him will last however for a long time, since it is impossible to “square the circle” concerning both Russian and Ukraine interests. While there is no real unity among NATO member states, with the exception of “sanctions” as smallest common denominator, cracks are also coming to the fore in the international financial architecture, in which the US is slowly losing its position as the World’s sole “hegemon” – also in terms of the dollar hegemony, while a “new multipolar world order “is emerging with China, Russia, India and countries from the Global South, that will determine the future of the world.

The US Rand Corporation which is a good source to investigate the grand lines of American politics, in January this year issued a 32 pages long study “Avoid a long war. The US policy and the course of the Russian-Ukraine conflict”, in which its authors emphasize that a success of the war will not be determined on the battlefield, that would leave the impression as if the Ukraine could successfully continue to fight and drive the Russian military out. By emphasizing that the war could widen into a nuclear confrontation between Russia and NATO, the study demands the negotiation of conditions that would end the sanctions against Russia and it tosses around the idea of a “frozen conflict” along the line of the Korea scenario that ended the Kora War. Rand’s essential recommendation is to avoid a long war that would turn into a financial burden for the US and its allies.

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