Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Why NATO needs to plan for nuclear war

By John R. Deni

12 Oct 2022 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

In this insightful analysis, Foreign Policy analyst plays out the different scenarios in which NATO could respond to any kind of nuclear escalation from the Russian side.

NATO defense ministers will gather this week for a ministerial meeting, but one topic of discussion will be anything but routine: the risk that Russian President Vladimir Putin might use nuclear weapons in Europe. The recent massive, disproportionate missile attacks launched against Ukraine in response to the truck bombing of the Kerch Bridge reinforce the notion that the Kremlin remains unpredictable.

Although Russian use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against non-nuclear Ukraine seems unlikely for several reasons, including the fact that it may frustrate Russia’s broader goals, Western military officials can and must think through their potential responses. Doing so is inherently difficult given the many variables in play, but there are options that would punish Moscow and safeguard alliance interests without necessarily propelling the West up a nuclear escalation ladder.

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