The potential for a nuclear war has been a prominent feature of every serious discussion about U.S. military intervention in Ukraine. That’s as it should be. But one thing that is too often missing from these discussions is an acknowledgement of how little we actually know about nuclear warfare.
On February 27, Vladimir Putin raised the alert level of his country’s nuclear forces—putting them on “special regime of combat duty.” The operational meaning of that heightened nuclear status is unclear, but the intended signal is plain: Be warned. The move came just days after Russia staged nuclear-weapons maneuvers intended to deter NATO intervention in Ukraine. That earlier round of muscle-flexing prompted the French minister of foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to remind Putin that NATO also has nukes.
Putin’s war on Ukraine has brought the world closer to nuclear war than any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, itself a leftover from the Berlin crisis of 1958–61. (The 1983 Soviet false-alarm incident is a close runner-up.) When in 1961 Paul H. Nitze told former President Dwight Eisenhower that none of the Kennedy administration’s 128 contingency plans for the Berlin crisis had been realized, the soldier-statesman responded with one of his mottos: “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” War is a human affair, and its prosecution and outcome are never perfectly foreseeable. Putin’s war on Ukraine is a reminder of Clausewitz’s famous observation:
War is a contest of wills; it is unpredictable; it is the domain of accident and contingency; nothing goes as planned; and events are smothered in a fog created by misinformation and fear.
Read more at The BulWark