Biden’s Armageddon Warning: Realistic Assessment Or Political Fearmongering?

As coincidence would have it, his warning came ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis during what many are now in retrospect describing as the Old Cold War.

US President Joe Biden warned earlier this month that “[For the] first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have a direct threat of the use [of a] nuclear weapon if in fact things continue down the path they are going. We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [US President John F.] Kennedy.” As coincidence would have it, this comes ahead of the 60th anniversary of that selfsame crisis during what many are now in retrospect describing as the Old Cold War.

To remind the reader, the US and the Soviet Union dangerously faced off around the Caribbean island of Cuba during that time. American intelligence revealed that the USSR had deployed nuclear missiles on its ally’s territory, which prompted them to blockade the island. The tense standoff could have led to a nuclear war but was eventually defused. Moscow withdrew those weapons while Washington quietly withdrew its own from Turkiye, which it placed there first and had thus actually provoked the crisis.

Nowadays the dynamics are a lot different but no less dangerous. NATO’s steady expansion eastward after the end of the Old Cold War alarmed Russia. Moscow began warning about this at the start of the century, especially when Washington began building so-called “anti-missile” infrastructure on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact countries that were absorbed by this anti-Russian alliance. The Kremlin suspected that the US wanted to eventually erode its nuclear second-strike capabilities.

This in turn prompted that country to prioritize the research and development of hypersonic missiles and glide vehicles in order to neutralize the threat to its deterrence capabilities, without which it would have been placed in a position of nuclear blackmail. From there, NATO could have also attacked it through conventional means – including via an overland invasion – or at least threatened to do so in order to coerce Russia into a never-ending series of unilateral concessions aimed at its dismemberment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned about this emerging scenario late last year, during which time his government shared its security guarantee requests with the US and NATO, albeit ultimately in vain. He therefore felt forced to resort to military action to defend his country’s national security red lines in Ukraine after accusing those two of crossing them in order to advance their long-term nuclear blackmail plot, thus beginning Russia’s special operation in that former Soviet Republic.

It almost immediately transformed into a NATO-Russia proxy war after the first-mentioned unprecedentedly supported Kiev through economic, informational, intelligence, logistical, military, and political means. The Ukrainian Conflict recently reached a new stage in late September after the four Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Lugansk and Zaporozhye held referenda that resulted in their incorporation into the Russian Federation and the extension of Moscow’s nuclear umbrella over them.

President Putin warned late last month in no uncertain terms that his country will defend its territorial integrity through all means at its disposal, thus hinting at the use of nuclear weapons if its leadership felt that the need had arisen. About that, Russia’s related doctrine allows this in the event of an overwhelming conventional attack that threatens its territorial integrity and thus existence as a unified state, such as if a NATO-backed but Ukrainian-fronted invasion force swept across its new borders.

Against the context of the partial mobilization of experienced reservists that preceded President Putin’s warning and Russia’s incorporation of those four former Ukrainian territories, the West began wondering whether Russia might actually be preparing to use nuclear weapons, even if only so-called “tactical nukes” in the credible scenario that was just described above. It was with these rapidly evolving military-strategic dynamics in mind that Biden shared his warning about the Armageddon.

The reality, however, is that everything isn’t as simple as the American President misportrayed it as being. Far from Russia being responsible for this dramatic turn of events, it’s actually the US that’s at fault. This is because it continued expanding NATO closer to its opponent’s borders in parallel with the development of “anti-missile” infrastructure aimed at neutralizing its nuclear second-strike capabilities. This anti-Russian bloc and its US hegemon also ignored Moscow’s security guarantee requests last year.

Absent any credible means for diplomatically resolving what International Relations scholars could accurately describe as the security dilemma between these two nuclear superpowers, Russia had no choice but to resort to limited military means for ensuring the integrity of its national security red lines. It also deserves mentioning that the Kremlin has accused the West of sabotaging prior peace talks with Kiev that could have ended the conflict during its early stages in order to perpetuate a proxy war.

President Putin himself ominously warned on 21 September that “this is not a bluff” when reminding the West that Russia will make use of all modern weapons systems to protect its territorial integrity. Nobody should therefore doubt his resolve to protect what his country considers to be its new borders in Ukraine’s four former regions. Therefore, the objective reality is that it’s the US that will decide whether or not to escalate the Ukrainian Conflict to that level by provoking Russia to use such arms.

After all, Ukrainian presidential advisor Alexey Arestovich admitted in late March that Russia had already destroyed his country’s military-industrial complex by that time. The only reason why Kiev still fights is because it’s fully armed by NATO, thus making it a proxy of that anti-Russian alliance. It thus follows that the bloc’s US leader is the one with the power to decide whether to order this NATO-backed but Ukrainian-fronted force to invade Russia’s new borders and thus risk it responding with tactical nukes.

Even in the worst-case scenario that this happens, it still doesn’t mean that the Armageddon is inevitable. America has no mutual defense obligations to Ukraine like it does to fellow NATO members. This means that the declining unipolar hegemon might not react by nuking Russia or even launching a conventional attack against it, whether within its pre-2014 borders or beyond. Therefore, the end of the world shouldn’t be taken for granted even if Russia is provoked into defending itself with tactical nukes.

All told, Biden’s warning appears to be political fearmongering aimed at scaring Europe into uniting around the US, not a realistic assessment. It also purposely decontextualizes the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict by omitting any mention of America’s culpability in creating the conditions that compelled Russia to employ military means for defending its national security red lines there. If there’s any silver lining, it might be that this drama revives the peace process in order to de-escalate the crisis.

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