The United States and Russia have the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. But only two people are talking about their potential use: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister. Let’s call it what it is: nuclear blackmail.
Putin knows the weaknesses of democracies. He knows that no politician in the West would ever seriously contemplate the use of even tactical nuclear weapons, fearing the escalation ladder and threat to their populations. He knows that he can do as he pleases with Ukraine, and without fear of significant Western reprisals beyond EU and U.S. economic warfare that crashed the ruble.
He wants Ukraine, period. Sanctions and diplomatic discussions will not change his behavior. Nor will humanitarian concerns of over a million refugees. Nor will the deaths of hundreds and perhaps soon thousands of Russians and Ukrainians. It was his plan to invade Ukraine all along. The fact that he is willing to place nuclear capable forces on high alert when facing a non-nuclear adversary is telling. The goal is intimidation.
From the autocrat’s perspective, regaining control over Ukraine would be the capstone that would secure his historical legacy as the great Russian patriot. At 69 years of age, he may feel the passage of time more acutely. Hence, his need to act now.
What can be done? There is an option that I hope is being discussed behind closed doors in Europe and America: sending in clandestine military units, special forces (Green Berets), to assist their Ukrainian freedom-loving kin. Simply put, clandestine means secret and deniable. There are U.S. and European special operations warriors that already speak the language and could blend in with the populace. The objective would be to further train and support the Ukrainian resistance: to take the fight to the Russians. Special forces employment — with political plausible deniability — could be a highly effective tool against conventional Russian units. NATO, a defensive alliance, would not be directly involved. Individual countries, who are NATO members, could be. It is a distinction with an important difference. Special forces employment in this manner keeps us off the nuclear escalation ladder.
The French supported the 13 colonies in their war of independence against an absolutist English king. The United States of America might not exist today without their intervention. The Ukrainians are in the same fight, a battle for their liberty. There is no nobler cause. Plus, I hate the thought of surrendering to any dictator’s intimidation, nuclear or otherwise.
If democracies do not support one another against a nuclear-capable tyrant, like Putin, we are all in big trouble. Ukraine may be the first, but it certainly won’t be the last to fall to an oppressor. The motto of the U.S. special forces is De Oppresso Liber, which translated from the Latin means “to free the oppressed.” The Russians overmatch the Ukrainians in every military category except courage. I can think of few times in their history when the Green Berets were needed more.
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Robert Bruce Adolph is a former senior Army Special Forces soldier and United Nations security chief, who holds graduate degrees in both international affairs & strategy. He is the author of the new book entitled, “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge.”