The Risk of Nuclear War Fatigue

Russian President Vladimir Putin's repeated threats of using nuclear weapons have created a "boy who cried wolf" situation, but nuclear experts cautioned the United States and its allies against becoming desensitized to the threat.

Since Russia first invaded Ukraine, Putin and his allies have threatened the West with the possible use of nuclear weapons if support to Ukraine continues. Western allies have bucked the threats, and continue to provide increasingly significant weaponry to Ukraine, but failing to take the threat seriously could put the world at risk. However, failing to take Putin's threats seriously could taint war-time calculations and put the world at risk if Putin is pushed too far.

"On the Western side it's a big problem," Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Newsweek. "Once we get used to these tones and rhetoric in the public, we start to say, 'Of course he's not going to do it' and then people get bolder and bolder and bolder, and you can imagine where you get into a situation down the line where Putin would revisit this issue [of using nuclear weapons]."

Fears that Putin may resort to a nuclear weapon have increased over the past year. He suspended Russia's participation in the joint New START Treaty with the United States and on March 25 announced that Moscow would build tactical nuclear weapon storage facilities in Belarus, a country run by close Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko. Months earlier, Putin denied having any plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Putin's rhetoric and recent actions are part of an overall "mixed" message, Nikolai Sokov, senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, told Newsweek.

Russia initially tried to leverage nuclear weapons to prevent assistance from being sent to Ukraine. But Russia quickly realized it was a failing strategy and began to retreat from its own provocations-only to revisit them again for a short period in September in response to a string of military defeats.

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Source: Newsweek