The media, official Washington, and the broader public are anxious about the prospects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as about China’s rhetoric and occasional saber-rattling over Taiwan. But these events need to be put in perspective. As my colleague Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft has noted, there is a viable diplomatic option for preventing Russian intervention in Ukraine. The elements would include demilitarizing the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine, where a war between Russian-backed forces and the Ukrainian government has cost 14,000 lives since 2014; granting autonomy to the region; and pledging not to extend an invitation for NATO membership to Ukraine. This approach would require compromise by all parties involved, but pursuing it is far preferable to war. With respect to China, tensions over Taiwan can be reduced via smart diplomacy, in part by sticking to the longstanding U.S. “One China” policy that assures that Washington will not support formal Taiwanese independence.
Even if tensions among the so-called great powers can be reduced this time around – which is by no means assured — this moment is a reminder that in relations among nuclear-armed states all possible avenues must be explored to avoid creating situations that could lead to a military confrontation that might escalate to the nuclear level. This means rethinking and revising U.S. nuclear strategy.
As we await the Biden administration’s release of its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), it is an opportune time to talk about what such a document should entail. High on the list should be a commitment to “no first use” of nuclear weapons, which is exactly what it sounds like – a policy of not ever using nuclear weapons first. This would mean not responding to a conventional or other non-nuclear attack with nuclear weapons and retaliating to rather than initiating a nuclear exchange. A no first use policy could actually strengthen deterrence while reducing the risk of an inadvertent nuclear war prompted by fear of a first strike launched by an adversary, or by a nuclear false alarm.
Read the full article in Forbes.