Homeland Security Network Blog
Why So Much Talk About Nuclear Weapons?
The Daily Skeptic
by Noah Carl
During the last two weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about nuclear weapons in Ukraine: specifically, that the Russians might use them.
In an interview with NPR, the political scientist Matthew Bunn said “his best estimate” of the chance Russia uses a nuclear weapon is 10 to 20 percent. And in a widely discussed article, the physicist and ‘existential risk expert’ Max Tegmark gave the chance as 30%.
In a speech on October 6th, Biden referred to the “prospect of Armageddon” and claimed Putin is “not joking” when he talks about using nuclear weapons – comments the New York Times described as “highly unusual for any American president”.
And in an article published four days later, the former CIA director Leon Panetta claimed, “Some intelligence analysts now believe that the probability of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine has risen from 1-5 percent at the start of the war to 20-25 percent today”.
Biden and Panetta’s comments are especially notable given their provenance – the current president and former CIA director, respectively. Why the sudden focus on a possible nuclear strike?
There are several different theories. The first and most obvious is that the chance of Russia using nukes actually has increased. Putin suffered humiliating defeats in Kharkiv and Kherson, so the theory goes. And once the Ukrainians retake more territory, he might use nuclear weapons to turn the tide of battle, or to force his enemies to the negotiating table.
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