Nuclear Weapons Will Drive Limited War in Europe
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
Part of the History is Not Over series authored by Petrus Liberius
The Limits of Mutually Assured Destruction
It is not enough to be able to win a war, the juice has to be worth the squeeze in order to undertake the effort. States armed with nuclear weapons can destroy each other at any time, but using them ensures mutual destruction – a simple first order consequence of trying to subjugate another nuclear-armed state. This is what drove the “mutually assured destruction” era, the USA - USSR military standoff which, in turn, drove Cold War geopolitical stasis.
This poses a significant problem for anyone pointing to a path to full-scale nuclear war. How and why would a state cross that boundary? Would it somehow be a surprise if it happened? Could a war become slowly nuclear and then suddenly catastrophic all at once without knowing it was about to happen? And what is gained by subjugating another state, anyway?
The World Wars showed the futility of such vain desires and the supremacist manias that drove them. In both cases, the aggressors' war aims were not much more than fuzzy aspirational end-states driven by vain bullshit with uncertain future payoffs and catastrophic real world outcomes.
Perceived payoff outweighing perceived cost is universal and omnipresent logic which determines whether or not the juice is truly worth the squeeze. The Cold War would not have been so cold had this not been true and this simple calculation is quite visibly employed at all levels of hierarchy, from veteran strategists to sublingual animals. It is why bears avoid humans. A bear will probably win a fight against a human but, the effort required negates any value gained from the confrontation. It is simply not worth it. A bear is smart enough to know that it might be staring at the next Hugh Glass.
War is made more attractive as a means of achieving political ends by effective nuclear deterrence limiting and bounding the cost of war, making war’s costs and outcomes more predictable, more easily quantifiable, more easily “budgeted” in a world where costs and benefits must be weighed against limited capital, both real and political. The supremacist manias of the 20th century that drove the world into wars of annihilation were immune from this sort of logic; the manias of our time are not.
Nuclear weapons have returned Europe to the old balance of power based on limited wars for relative territorial, political, or economic advantage. We have seen this in Ukraine and Syria, and perhaps we will see it, once more, in Ukraine and the Baltics.
Pushing subjugation from the realm of the real and into the realm of the impossible pushes all associated outcomes beyond the conceivable horizon. This closes off some strategic outcomes but opens up others. It is time for us to catch up to this reality.
It is an effective certainty that Russia and the United States will fight on the ground in Europe at some point in the future so as long as that future conflict conforms to the constraints of limited war: limited means used to accomplish limited ends. It is simply a matter of time. This is clear and apparent to the Russians and it is past time for it to be clear and apparent to everyone else. All reservations and doubts of this premise should have vanished after the battle in Syria between Russian mercenaries and the American-backed-and-advised coalition in 2018. The strongest evidence of this is the degree to which that battle conformed to the classic constraints.
This follows the limited Russian invasions of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The scope of both invasions were constrained by limited means.
On some level it may seem shocking to assert that the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence would drive conflict. However, we’ve already seen behavior that perfectly conforms to this expectation and we’re going to see more unless and until something stops the Russians (most likely their own weakness or the inherent unattractiveness of their targets). Why else would they stop? There is simply no reason.
Knowing all of this, is the juice of protecting an ungrateful Europe that is unwilling, unable, and, perhaps even uninterested in protecting itself, worth the squeeze of American blood and treasure? Is the whole of Europe worth the bones of even one American soldier?
About the author
Petrus Liberius is a merciless patrician who identifies with other merciless patricians who have been underserved for a Millenia. Petrus is a fellow American Expat writing to us from an undisclosed location in the heart of Europe.
TheGreyPointofView.com is an independent blog on ethics, politics, Euro-life and more. Written by expats, global citizens and other interesting sapiens. If you are interested in writing with us, send us your post for review. We look forward to hearing from you.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect this site's official policy or position. To learn more about our policies visit https://www.thegreypointofview.com/legal.