Good job that Petrov and Arkhipov chose not to “stay in their lane”, do the right thing, or to follow the science to protect others. The point is that they were able to exercise individual judgment and discretion. If everything – including machine generated reports to the top brass – is automated there is no scope for humans to intervene. Humans not practised in making little discerning choices won’t be able to use their discretion to make big ones, if and when the time comes.
That’s what all this striving for unity, integration, control, an internet of things, and a world without any hard choices that sometime lead to bad outcomes will get us: destruction of our agency, of our conscience, and ultimately of our very existence.
The Russians love their children too.
I don’t believe Russian military leaders would use strategic nuclear weapons in the Ukraine circumstances. But they may use tactical/battlefield weapons against civilians and infrastructure, as this seems to be their core military strategy. Though I wonder if the Ukrainians with their network of nuclear shelters in urban areas may actually be well placed to survive the immediate effects of such weapons. And then the rest of the world will condemn it – even their allies, the Chinese.
”But they may use tactical/battlefield weapons against civilians and infrastructure, as this seems to be their core military strategy.”
So you say the core Russian military strategy is to kill civilians?
”And then the rest of the world will condemn it – even their allies, the Chinese.”
So you say the Chinese are allies of Russia?
I think you watch too much MSM.
The way Russian missiles have rained down on civilian cities miles back from the front line that are devoid of any military targets or strategic value indicates that a core part of Russias military strategy is indeed aimed at killing civilians.
And whilst I don’t believe China has allies anywhere, they instead have interests, they’re probably the closest thing Russia has to one currently.
Don’t feed the troll! His comment history is Q-leaning, best not to engage
“Don’t feed the troll’ is the cheap bark of an ideology.
But Aaron doesn’t engage at all, and recently he’s preferred to denigrate other commenters.
I like seeing the debate in Unherd comments as much as the articles, otherwise I’d stop my subscription. Someone who fails to engage and attacks commenters with ad hominem insults isn’t adding anything of value to the comments.
What is MSM?
Perhaps you ought to watch more of it too!
The Chinese are not really allies of the Russians. It may look like that right now, but these countries have fundamental conflicts which will soon resurface. Putin’s Ukraine fiasco probably works quite well for the Chinese – cheaper oil, weaker Russia, etc.
The danger is not some imagined united will of the Russian people to win a war at all costs, but Putin himself.
There have been many articles recently which perceptively remark that Putin is not resurrecting the Soviet system, but the imperial Tsarist Russia that preceded it. If this is true then it makes a Tsarist figure in possession of a nuclear arsenal a great deal more dangerous than the Soviet system that collapsed under its own contradictions in 1989.
And yet perhaps that’s not it either. Is this the same Putin who sought an opening with the US multiple times to join NATO, most latterly promised some comfort by Obama after the then-upcoming US elections? What could have happened, aside from the purported Eurasianism of the least-influential Russian Eurasian scholar turning his head? Perhaps there might be a number of critical things on which we haven’t been too well informed.
One only needs to listen to Jeffrey Sachs on the recent show ‘Democracy Now!’ tell what it was like. He resigned over this. We (USA) had no intention of treating Russia as anything else but a renewed path to another cold war era. I guess this is the way of NATO being “job creators” (their words.. not mine.) In 2008 the head of the CIA warned D.C. that we could not continue to encourage eastward NATO expansion and encircle Russia.
Of course this is exactly what we did.
I hope the “diplomats” (too funny to call them this) and policy leaders from 2008 on are happy as clams with the tragedies that that have happened in their names.
Yes, Jan, this is true. By late 1989 in Washington we had, for instance, already prefigured the breakup of Yugoslavia in the event of the end of the Soviet regime. By 1991 specific operatives were being trained for placement in Zagreb. What does that say of our fomenting the Balkan wars? One merely has to read what our UNPROFOR generals such as Michael Rose have actually written and said, particularly wrt NATO’s role, to work it out. Or the ever-discreet Gen Nambiar’s trajectory in and rapidly out of Sarajevo. But again, none of our journalists were looking or listening. The determination of Russia to go to war with the Ukraine was foreshadowed by all of Russia, not just Putin as our journalists and politicians like to assert, thanks in part to what we did in the Balkans as well as all else. As for China, the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade after our involvement in the student protests at the end of Gorbachev’s rule was the trigger for all bets coming off with the US in the South China Sea. You can’t keep up a one-sided war without the other side eventually going to war with you. And now we like to assign unilateral blame, holding our hands up. Anything else invites a lynch mob flecked with bile and spittle.
Perhaps that’s because it’s all one-sided comments like yours deserve. You cite facts supporting a theory, and ignore more important facts that challenge it.
I listened to that interview with Sachs and could have predicted everything he said before he said it. All lefty boilerplate about NATO, etc. A well-educated man, he’s thrown his lot in with the usual suspects: radical environment and anti-poverty activists and COVID weirdos (he thinks Covid came from an AMERICAN lab). He blames Venezuela’s woes on U.S. sanctions, imposed in 2017, noting an increase in death between 2017 and 2018. Of course he says nada about what was going on in Venezuela prior to 2017 (already a basketcase country). And his ant-poverty projects have been reported to have left the people those projects were aimed at worse off than before.
In other words, a typical Democracy Now guest.
Why not just take out the Ukrainian electrical grid with targeted strikes? They could do that easily.
In the late 60s and70s NATO forces, including BAOR, were squaring up to the Soviets across the border in East Germany and Poland. The British/NATO battle plan was to fight as hard as they could to prevent Soviet troops flooding across the North European/German Plain and reaching the North Sea.
Our forces had six weeks supply of ammunition etc. Had the fight lasted any longer, or if the Soviets were winning, NATO would have used battlefield nuclear weapons. That was the agreed plan. We would have used nuclear weapons first, and likely on our own territory.
They……did …..according to Sting.
However did we in the worst of soviet times see madmen…..rather maniacs threatening, wishing to see European capitals be obliterated from the face of the earth …..to….I quote…..start anew ?
Nope …..we did not.
These guys either do not like their children or think their world will remain pristine when we are buried under rubbles.
During the soviet era, there was undoubtedly fear…..but fear from a system.
We now have fear …..from a mad man. Just remember his head of secret service stuttering trying to find the answer that would please the prince.
In soviet times you had a central committee that could send its Secretary General to the goulag if need be.
Totally different ball game today this is why I repeat what was deleted in another post ( please explain why ) Putin will end up using tactical nuke.
Europe will be scared to death, NATO will do….nothing as is the rule ………and we’d better be very creative in negotiating with Putin or his cronies…..cuz next step is…..strategic and no camping stove or camping rations are going to save us.
If one wants to see what the effects of a use would be, an excellent British movie dating back late 60 s shows that very graphically……can’t remember the title though but it made quite an impression on us pupils of my French school.
The flaw in this argument and article, which is otherwise very interesting, is surely that both officers were not exercising their individual consciences, they were simply not clear about the orders and authority they had, so they erred on the side of caution. Thank goodness.
But if they had received clear orders to strike, they would have done so. That is the basis of any military command structure
“That is the basis of any military command structure” True, though perhaps that is quite parallel to his point. All I know is that our seven year old son has come home from school each day for a week to show us or newly draw his latest artwork, colourful pictures of nuclear explosions complete with demolished cars, buildings and lightning around the mushroom cloud. All titled ‘nukes’. Back to the Cold War of which we all celebrated the end in 1991, and some of us in advance of that.
” … we could … ask whether Soviet Communism may have even played a positive role in the decisions of Arkhipov and Petrov.” Very true. They may have been aware of how rotten to the core Soviet totalitarianism was and they decided it was not worth destroying the world for socialism.
“The fact that the Soviet Union claimed to represent the next stage of human civilisation necessarily placed humanity at the core of how the Soviet state conceived of itself.”
Er… has someone told him about the famines, the Stalinist purges and the gulags yet?
All of them committed by people raised or indoctrinated in communist ideology. It’s extremely naive to believe communists when they plead superior humanity.
The Soviets were “humanists?” Yeah maybe in Marxist theory, but the idea as an explanation for why these boys neglected to pull the trigger is pretty preposterous.
How about “Russians are human beings”?
I just don’t see the American military-political establishment as being full of “zeal” to spread Western liberalism. That description simply rings hollow to me. There is a smug assumption that “the arc of history bends towards “… but not “zeal.” That is overwrought.
The problem we Americans have always faced is the assumption that everyone “really” wants to live like us, that inside of every human there os an American trying to get out. But that is different than “zeal.”
Bush and the neo-conservatives learned a valuable lesson in the Iraq War, as did the rest of Americans.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tops out at self-actualization. Our assumption had been that everyone followed the model, not realizing that for Islam, the top is obedience to Allah. Our error led to the belief that Western Civ could be exported, at gunpoint if need be, and that Islam could be ‘fixed.’
Our successful transformation of Japan, following WWII, only worked because Nippon had unconditionally surrendered and we could occupy and reconstruct their society as long as it took. This occupation did not occur in the Middle East and might not have worked anyway, given the Islam Hierarchy.
The assumption everyone wants to live like us is a false one. Everyone wants to be left alone. And sent American money. No, the end of history did not come with the collapse of Communism. The only remedy is, again, total domination and subjugation. Those who think God is on our side should consider the possibility that God does not intend things to turn out the way we want them to.
What a great point you make, Vince. And “the assumption that everyone “really” wants to live like us” is what some of us fought against, with total failure, in US policies after 1991. The idea of turning Russia into a political copy of the US, albeit that as AJP Taylor has said the Soviet economy was a copy of the US economy, was an irresistible idea among our then-emergent key policy-makers, many of them Democrat hawks, which explains how we were rushed into supporting, in George Bush’s view and that of any objective observer at the time, a shallow opportunist like Yeltsin. Some in the State Department thought it would lead to civil war in Russia. And Yeltsin’s disastrous reign at this critical time made Putin, even in Yeltsin’s view, a necessity for Russia.
Since presumably Putin would intentionally order a nuclear attack, the whole thrust of this article is pointless.
Except, I suppose, to slip in the author’s stealth comment about “an officer corps and politico-military elite that has been committed to an expansionist vision of liberal globalism for 30 years, with an ideological zeal that would embarrass a Cold War-era Soviet commissar.”
Next time, at least try to make a coherent case for Whataboutism.
The Soviets proclaimed they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, ie, ICBMs in a surprise attack against the West. That thinking may not be relevant for non-communist Russia, but if the thinking changed, the structure Russia inherited did not.
The SALT Treaty allowed the USSR and USA to decide for themselves how to deploy their anti-ballistic defenses. The US chose to protect the missile fields. The USSR chose to ring Moscow with ABMs. The difference illustrates who was prepared to strike first.
There’d be no need to protect launching silos with ABMs if the missiles were on their way in a first strike. US placement was to protect the missiles for a retaliatory strike, not the capital nor the citizenry.
Whether Putin would go with strategic nukes or not, the hardware is in place for first strike.
Part of any Russian decision to use tactical nuclear weapons has to be an evaluation of how likely it is that the weapons will actually work as designed. The reliability of Russian military equipment and ammunition in Ukraine has been spotty at best. At least 10% of Russan conventional Russian missiles misfire or fall short. Firing the nuclear versions of these weapons is not an attractive option.
The dud rate is also a problem. If Putin uses a nuke, and it fails to detonate, Putin gets huge embarrassment. The corruption rampant in the Russian military makes this outcome possible, even probable. Nuclear weapons require careful component storage and maintenance. They’re fragile. The overall Russian record on Russian military storage and maintenance is really poor. The weapons have to be assembled and readied by technical people who know what they’re doing.
My guess is that beyond the usual risk considerations of nuclear retaliation, Putin has to worry, a lot, about the reliability of his nuclear weapons. Combining all these risks, in my opinion, increases the uncertainty to the point that no rational Russian Commander in Chief would order a nuclear attack on Ukraine. Even if Putin isn’t completely rational, his subordinates definitely are.
You’re frightening me! There may be nuclear weapons waiting nearby, just in case they’re wanted, while meanwhile, explosions take place at arms stores. According to the Russians, these are caused by accidents rather than enemy action, which is why I worry.
Nuclear weapons have fail-safe fuses, even Russian ones. It’s difficult to make two sub-critical pieces of uranium combine into a critical mass that causes a nuclear chain reaction explosion. For obvious reasons, nuclear weapons are not stored in a condition where it’s possible they can go off accidentally. The explosive fuses that force the two pieces of uranium together are only installed just before launch.
Even if nuclear weapons are present in a Russian ammo dump exploded by Ukrainian shelling, there will never be a resulting nuclear detonation.
Did I miss the point of this article?
Sorry to be flippant, but this article brings VAR to mind!
Russia sadly suffers from the same delusions of grandeur as the United Kingdom.
Both were once Imperial powers, and both ultimately collapsed.
However again it was not catastrophic military defeat that caused this collapse, but rather slow, inexorable financial exhaustion.
Unfortunately this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ engendered a sense of denial and thus the delusion of grandeur persists.
Russia humiliated is likely to be a dangerous beast, even in its death throes.
You are entering (doo-dee-doo-doo doo-dee-doo-doo)
The Twilight Zone
I think we are all discovering, Putin included, that the Russian system and in particular, military/security, has been deeply corroded, corrupted, and is catastrophically unfit-for-purpose. For the third time in a little over a century. For all the faults of the West, and of Asia, we tend to pull through after disaster – sufficient hope, rebirth, learning hard lessons. Poor old Russia – to paraphrase the Sage, B. Spears, ‘Oops We did it again’.
Russian disenchantment with their government’s military goes back further than a century. Losing the Crimean War of 1853-56 was a humiliating blow, since Russia’s navy was banned from the Black Sea, albeit temporarily. And the destruction of 2 Russian fleets by the Japanese during the war of 1904/1905 caused further discontent, riots and a revolution which, although put down, must have added fuel to the one in 1917.
Here is the thing though. Russia is not in trouble. Putin is not in trouble. Russia is holding all the cards with all these sanctions. Much better than Europe is. So, Russians aren’t freaking out, and Putin is not freaking out. Germany is freaking out. Russia is running a very low-loss slow-grind artillery driven operation here. If Putin wanted to take things up a notch, he would take out all of the Ukrainian electric grid with missiles, leaving all the rest of Ukraine to the dark cold winter. Sort of like what Europe is freaking out about right now as their own economies are looking so gloomy.
That’s the coming threat, not nukes. I think Biden has asked Europe to hold the sanctions till after the US mid-term elections in November, but I could be wrong, and no one is sure if Europe will hold out that long. Something’s got to give. I don’t think Western spooks murdering Russian people with car bombs is going to pull Russia into the escalated action of Nukes, or topple Putin. I think the US had a half-baked plan, and it’s not working out. Europe needs to go its own way. Absolutely protect itself from potential Russian aggression, but still go its own way out from under so much US control. This winter of unrest and the political consequences might be the only way to escape that controlling hand.
This yo-yo thinks the Ukraine War was a “half-baked U.S. plan.” Someone should tell Putin, and the Ukrainians.
The author surely is correct that a Soviet regime existed in the context of an idealistic ideology (no matter how unrealistic or misguided); and that, by contrast, Putin’s lot are mere gangsters, and any ideology they profess is merely self-serving, classic “last refuge of a scoundrel” posturing.
At the same time, is it just me, or do others detect a note of “regret already” in this article. He never seems to run out of reasons to appease Russia.
Your remark about Putin’s lot being gangsters reminded me of a fantastic quote by Garry Kasparov, former world Chess champion. He said, “in chess, the rules are fixed and the outcome is uncertain. In Putin’s Russia, it’s the opposite.”
This is all ” Brere Rabbit” stuff… “…. anything, but please do not throw me in the gorse bush”…..
I would like to think that back channels to the Russian military are being used to communicate a message that Putin’s removal and Russian withdrawal from all but Crimea would lead to a reboot in relations between Russia and Ukraine.
Unfortunately the US is looking for a total defeat of Russia. Russian military leaders would give up Putin but not Crimea.
What an extraordinarily original and understatedly brilliant essay by Philip Cunliffe. I’ve only just subscribed to UnHerd but this essay alone is to me worth a year’s subscription.
Of course, the real question is how we let it come to all this when for thirty years lucid warnings and avoidance strategies were offered by the best of US foreign policy experts, including Secretaries of State and Defense, and two former US Presidents.
Oh yes. That’s right. We let a particular set of neo-cons, even more zealous and inflexible than the Soviets run our FP, since the decline of George Bush Snr.
I am always amazed at how cavalierly the “It’s the U.S. and Nato what done it” crowd dismisses the history of the countries that begged for Nato support (protection, really, from Russia!). All the countries usually referenced had been under the Russian boot and now that they were democracies, what they needed most was protection FROM Russia, especially a Russia being led by an expansionist dictator with delusions of Tsarist Empire grandeur. Apparently, the “blame Nato” crowd thinks the democratic wishes of millions of people from many countries should have been ignored to appease a ruthless dictator. Well, we’ve heard all that before.
I cannot even think about this.
Utter garbage from an ignoramous. An embarrassment for Unherd and a waste of time for it’s readers.
Perhaps you might give a clue as to why you think it’s so awful, instead of simply using insults.