Congress' nuclear adviser thinks the US should go to DEFCON 3 to check Russia's ballistic bluster
As Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine nears its third bloody month, it remains to be seen what exactly his end game is, if a plausible one exists at all. The Ukrainians, with the aid of the West, have heroically defended their land – at a cost of countless lives – against Putin's forces, whose casualties may be in the tens of thousands as well. International sanctions and embargoes on Russian exports are weighing heavily on the economy. And the one trump card that Putin has – his vast nuclear arsenal – exists primarily as a deterrent against direct attacks on Russia.
But one expert disagrees with that assessment.
The head of Congress's Nuclear Strategy Forum, Dr. Peter Pry, opined during a speech at the Nuclear Deterrence and Missile Defense Forum on April 21st that while the West would prefer to avoid triggering World War III, Putin may be attempting to hasten its inception.
Pry, the president of EMPACT America and executive director of the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security, believes that Putin's provocative test of the Sarmat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile indicates that the Russian autocrat is itching for a global showdown.
"Putin may have become emboldened by the direction of the US’s nuclear posture over the past 30 years: Whereas the US has positioned itself to deter a nuclear war, Russia has prepared to wage a surprise attack," according to reporting in Air Force Magazine.
A scenario in which Putin uses a weapon of mass destruction in Ukraine – like tactical or "battlefield" atomic artillery, for example – is not unthinkable, especially if his genocidal campaign continues to drain his military of blood and treasure. That danger grows if he feels that his power is in jeopardy or if there is an "existential" hazard to the survival of the Russian state. As things stand now, the chances of seeing mushroom clouds in Eastern Europe should be low.
Pry believes that they are not.
“I think the administration and the Intelligence Community are either lying or have misconstrued the strategic situation,” Pry said, noting that he is particularly disturbed by the West's dismissal of Putin putting his nuclear forces on high alert as mere "bluster or bluffing."
That attitude "has been used to justify keeping US strategic nuclear forces at their lowest readiness level, DEFCON 5, which potentially makes them much more vulnerable to the surprise nuclear attack,” Pry said.
Air Force Mag also noted that "Pry was skeptical that Putin’s subordinates would balk at a nuclear strike."
Pry's point was not to stoke fear but for the United States to adequately prepare for whatever a desperate Putin tries. He said that if the US wants to keep Putin at bay and bring peace to Ukraine, it needs to boast a more fortified defensive posture. The US can do this, Pry suggested, by raising the country's readiness level from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 3.
“Going up at least to DEFCON 3 would put [US forces] in a more survivable posture and then communicate to Moscow, ‘Look, we’re mobilizing our forces because you guys have mobilized your forces. Neither of us wants to get in a nuclear war, so stand down your forces, and we’ll stand down ours,’” he said, although he conceded that such a plan would only be successful if Russia does not want to start WWIII.
“When I look at what the Russians are doing, you know, it’s almost like they are taking steps that are calculated to be provocative to the West and to get us to intervene in that war,” Pry said. “I keep thinking of the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805—Napoleon’s greatest victory where he managed to get the combined armies of Austria and Russia to attack him by feigning weakness. [He] had whole regiments run away from the Russians to lure them into attacking him on the Austerlitz battlefield, and then he dropped the hammer," said Pry.
“Does Russia want Ukraine to become the bloodlands of a World War 3—[to] have NATO and the United States come in there and then use [Putin’s] 10-to-1 advantage in tactical nuclear weapons as a final solution to the problem with NATO and the United States?” Pry replied to an audience member's question. “I mean, we might already be there in terms of Russia taking advantage of the correlation of forces that flavors it in terms of nuclear firepower.”
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