Russia has a nuclear doctrine known as "escalate to deescalate" or, more accurately, "escalate to win," which contemplates threatening or using nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict. It cannot be a good sign that Russia, China, and North Korea at the same time are threatening to launch the world's most destructive weaponry. Pictured: Mobile intercontinental ballistic missile launchers at a military parade in Moscow, Russia, on June 24, 2020. (Photo by Sergey Pyatakov - Host Photo Agency via Getty Images )
On May 1, on Russian TV, the media executive often called "Putin's mouthpiece" urged the Russian president to launch a Poseidon underwater drone with a "warhead of up to 100 megatons." The detonation, said Dmitry Kiselyov, would create a 1,640-foot tidal wave that would "plunge Britain to the depths of the ocean." The wave would reach halfway up England's tallest peak, Scafell Pike.
"This tidal wave is also a carrier of extremely high doses of radiation," Kiselyov pointed out. "Surging over Britain, it will turn whatever is left of them into radioactive desert, unusable for anything. How do you like this prospect?"
"A single launch, Boris, and there is no England anymore," said Kiselyov, addressing the British prime minister.
The threat followed one on April 28 made by Aleksey Zhuravlyov, chairman of Russia's pro-Kremlin Rodina Party. On the "60 Minutes" program carried on Channel One, Russian TV, he urged Putin to nuke Britain with a Sarmat, the world's largest and heaviest missile.
The program noted that a missile launched from Russia's Kaliningrad enclave would take 106 seconds to hit Berlin, 200 seconds to reach Paris, and 202 seconds to obliterate London.
The NATO designation of the Sarmat is "Satan II."
Putin himself has gotten in on the fun. Just before sending his forces across Ukraine's border, he warned of "consequences you have never encountered in your history." On February 27, he put his nuclear forces on high alert. On March 1, the Russian leader actually sortied his ballistic missile submarines and land-based mobile missile launchers in what was called a drill. On May 4, the Russian Defense Ministry announced "electronic launches" in Kaliningrad of its nuclear-capable Iskander mobile ballistic missile.
Russia has a nuclear doctrine known as "escalate to deescalate" or, more accurately, "escalate to win," which contemplates threatening or using nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict.
China, which on February 4 issued a joint statement with Russia about their no-limits partnership, has this century been periodically making unprovoked threats to destroy the cities of states that have somehow offended it. In July of last year, for instance, the Chinese regime threatened to nuke Japan over its support for Taiwan. In September, China issued a similar threat against Australia because it had joined with the U.S. and U.K. in the AUKUS pact, an arrangement to maintain stability in the region. This March, China's Ministry of Defense promised the "worst consequences" for countries helping Taiwan defend itself. The threat appeared especially directed against Australia.
This month, North Korea said that, in addition to using nuclear weapons to retaliate against an attack, it might launch nukes to attack others.
It cannot be a good sign that Russia, China, and North Korea at the same time are threatening to launch the world's most destructive weaponry.
Why are the planet's most dangerous regimes all making such threats?
First, Putin showed the world these warnings in fact intimidate. As Hudson Institute senior fellow Peter Huessy told me in March, escalating to win assumes nuclear threats will "coerce an enemy to stand down and not fight." Because the Western democracies have largely stood down and are clearly not fighting in Ukraine, Beijing and Pyongyang want similar successes.
Second, Putin and Chinese ruler Xi Jinping could make such threats because they do not respect nations perceived as enemies. "The bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan and the unwillingness to effectively support Ukraine since our 1994 guarantee and especially over the past year have led nuclear-armed enemies to ratchet up threats to the U.S. and its allies," Huessy, also president of GeoStrategic Analysis, said to Gatestone at the beginning of this month. "They sense a growing American weakness."
"Like Vladimir Putin, the Communist Party of China has lost its fear of American power," Richard Fisher of the Virginia-based International Assessment and Strategy Center said to me shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "China's nuclear threats expose the Party's arrogance in the face of perceived American weakness, expose the risk of the lack of a U.S. regional nuclear deterrent, and expose the inadequacy of U.S. leadership."
Third, internal considerations may make such threats easy to make. Many say the most dangerous moment since World War II was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Perhaps even more perilous was the Checkpoint Charlie standoff in Berlin the preceding October. Yet both Kennedy and Khrushchev knew there must never be a nuclear exchange. The issue today is whether Putin and Xi know that as well. Maybe they do not.
These threats may reveal that the leaders of these regimes share a last-days-in-the-bunker mentality. Both Russia and China, albeit in different ways, are ruled by regimes in distress, which means their leaders undoubtedly have low thresholds of risk.
Whatever the reason for the threats, Putin and Xi have told everyone what they intend to do. Unfortunately, Western leaders are determined not to believe them.
In response to Russian threats, President Joe Biden on February 28 said the American people should not worry about nuclear war. On the contrary, there is every reason to worry.
In line with Western thinking, presidents and prime ministers have almost always ignored nuclear threats, hoping not to dignify them. Unfortunately, this posture has only emboldened the threat-makers to make more threats. The later the international community confronts belligerent Russians, Chinese, and North Koreans, the more dangerous the confrontations will be.
The world, therefore, looks like it is fast approaching the worst moment in history.
"A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," Biden stated in June of last year. Maybe. Putin, who jointly issued those words with the American president, may think he can wage one and even win.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, a Gatestone Institute distinguished senior fellow, and a member of its Advisory Board.