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Petraeus told the media that America’s response to a nuclear strike will be to sink the Black Sea fleet and attack Russia’s forces in the Ukraine with a conventional response. His decision to do so has increased the chances nuclear weapons will be used in the Ukraine. Imagine you are a petty criminal and you want to steal a sports car from a local hard man (perhaps called “Andrew Tate”, for example). You know Tate has a gun. Tate sees you hanging around at the end of his drive and says, “If I see you round here eyeing up my motor again, I’m getting my baseball bat.” A beat down with a baseball bat is bad—yet perhaps, in a pinch, you would chance it. If Tate had seen you and just moved his finger over his throat in a slitting motion, you would avoid it altogether.


Now the Russians know what the American response will be they can make a mental tradeoff as to whether it is worthwhile to risk a nuclear strike—and this is especially true if they are in a desperate situation. They can precisely calculate the situation they are in as to whether it’s worth it to lose the Black Sea fleet; and they can also plan their next move. Previously, they had no idea—perhaps the Americans would counter-nuke, perhaps not; and so it would be less likely for them to risk it (“Tate got his gun”). Ambiguity is power, ambiguity is deterrence.


I cannot see how this could be an ingenious (or subversive) covert strategy, so perhaps Petraeus is flat out incompetent (General “Betray-us” does have a bad reputation). Alternatively, Petraeus spent so long fighting insurgency wars that he has forgotten the threat structure present in Cold War politics. Kissinger would never have put his cards on the table, he would have said, “The United States reserves the right to exercise all options in the current strategic environment…”. Either way, nobody is playing at Kissinger’s level.

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