Caitlin Johnstone: The Lunatic Argument That Nuclear Brinkmanship Makes Us Safe

The imperial spinmeisters for the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine are trying to get us to believe that de-escalation is dangerous. 

Fallout: no nukes are good nukes. (konsumterra, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Caitlin Johnstone

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Of all the narratives circulated about the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine, the dumbest so far has got to be the increasingly common claim that aggressively escalating nuclear brinkmanship is safe and de-escalating is dangerous.

We see a prime example of this self-evidently idiotic narrative in a new Business Insider article, “Putin’s nuclear threats are pushing people like Trump and Elon Musk to press for a Ukraine peace deal. A nuclear expert warns that’s ‘dangerous.’

“An understandable desire to avoid a nuclear war could actually make the world more dangerous if it means rushing to implement a ‘peace’ in Ukraine that serves Russian interests,” writes reliable empire apologist Charles Davis. “Such a move, which some influential figures have called for, risks setting a precedent that atomic blackmail is the way to win wars and take territory troops can’t otherwise hold, a model that could be copycatted by even the weakest nuclear-armed states, and may only succeed at delaying another war.”

Davis’ sole source for his article is the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research’s Pavel Podvig, who is very openly biased against Russia.

“The West supports Ukraine with weapons and financial and moral and political support. Giving that up and saying that, ‘Well, you know, we are too afraid of nuclear threats and so we just want to make a deal’ — that would certainly set a precedent that would not be very positive,” says Podvig. “If you yield to this nuclear threat once, then what would prevent Russia in the future — or others — to do the same thing again?”

Like other empire apologists currently pushing the ridiculous “de-escalation actually causes escalation” line, Davis and Podvig argue as though nuclear weapons just showed up on the scene a few days ago, as if there haven’t been generations of Western policies toward Moscow which have indeed involved backing down and making compromises at times because doing so was seen as preferable to risking a nuclear attack.

We survived the Cuban Missile Crisis because U.S. President John F. Kennedy secretly acquiesced to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s demands that the U.S. remove the Jupiter missiles it had placed in Turkey and Italy, which was what provoked Moscow to move nukes to Cuba in the first place.

The relative ranges Soviet weapons  — the Il-28, SS-4 and SS-5 — based on Cuba in nautical miles in October 1962. (Defense Intelligence Agency, Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout the Cold War the Soviet Union insisted on a sphere of influence to which U.S. strategists granted a wide berth, exactly because it was a nuclear superpower. Even as recently as the Obama administration the U.S. president maintained that “Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.”

Nevertheless, we’re seeing this new “escalation is safety and de-escalation is danger” narrative pushed with increasing forcefulness by imperial spinmeisters, because it would take a lot of force indeed to get people to accept something so self-evidently backwards and nonsensical.

“All of you who are saying that we have to give in to nuclear blackmail are making nuclear war more likely. Please stop,” tweeted Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder recently. “When you give in to it, you empower dictators to do it again, encourage worldwide nuclear proliferation, and make nuclear war much, much more likely.”

Snyder, who has been photographed grinning happily with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, does not actually believe that people tweeting in support of de-escalation and detente will cause a nuclear war. He uses the newfangled buzzword “nuclear blackmail” to discredit calls for de-escalation and detente because he wants those who support de-escalation and detente to be silent. He says “please stop” solely because he wants peace advocacy to stop.

“Nuclear war comes because we’ve done too little not too much,” tweeted Alexander Vindman, a key player in advancing the Trump-Ukraine scandal, further pushing the narrative that greater escalation is where the safety is.

In response to a tweet by France’s President Macron saying “We do not want a World War,” Paul Massaro, a senior policy advisor for the U.S. government’s Helsinki Commission, tweeted, “Precisely this sort of weak, terrified language leads Russia to escalate.”

Imagine being so warped and twisted that you see that as a sane response to the most normal statement anyone can possibly make.

Meanwhile you’ve got Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger acting like he’s a brave tough guy by welcoming continual nuclear escalation while calling anyone who advocates de-escalation cowards:

The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel somehow pulled off the heroic feat of getting an article advocating de-escalation published in The Washington Post with a piece titled “The Cuban missile crisis was 60 years ago, but it’s urgently relevant today.” Reminding us how close we came to total annihilation and how we only survived getting so recklessly close to nuclear war by “plain dumb luck,” she argues that humanity cannot risk going to the brink like that again.

“Humanity cannot afford to spin the cylinder again in this game of Russian roulette; we must unload the gun. Our only path forward is de-escalation,” vanden Heuvel writes.

Indeed it is. It’s absolutely insane that humanity is risking its own extinction over these games of empire-building and planetary domination when we’ve got so many other existential hurdles we need to focus on clearing.

This is all completely unnecessary. There’s nothing inscribed upon the fabric of reality saying states need to be waving Armageddon weapons at each other. There’s no valid reason not to lay aside these games of global conquest and collaborate together toward a healthy coexistence on this planet.

We could have such a beautiful world. All the energy we pour into competition and conquest could go toward innovation that benefits us all, making sure everyone has enough, eliminating human suffering and the need for human toil. We’re trading heaven on earth for elite ego games.

There’s no valid reason we can’t move from models of competition and domination to models of collaboration and care. Collaboration with each other; care for each other. Collaboration with our ecosystem; care for our ecosystem. We’re throwing it away in exchange for senseless misery and peril.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

9 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: The Lunatic Argument That Nuclear Brinkmanship Makes Us Safe

  1. Peter Loeb
    October 20, 2022 at 10:09

    The Ukrainian Army is losing even without Russia’s use of any nuclear weapons. That is the kind of
    red scaremongering which traditionally accompanies requests for increased expenditures for
    advanced weaponry. As this writer predicted on October 9, Russia does not need to use nuclear
    weapons at this time. On October 10, Russia attacked Kyiv and other cities. Russia no longer
    depicted as “helpless” or “frustrated”. Of course, if one wishes to follow David Petraeus of the Institute
    for the Study of War (ISW) (Board of Directors), the white supremacist forces will always have the advantage
    because they will get hot soup from other fanatical Ukrainians. Is Lockheed charging billions for
    hot soup? They would much prefer to market and profit from the sale of advanced weaponry.

  2. peter mcloughlin
    October 20, 2022 at 06:27

    There is a thread in history: when nations get closer to the war they need to avoid the more deluded they become that they can win it – that applies equally today to nuclear war.
    A free ebook: The Pattern Of History and Fate of Humanity

  3. J Anthony
    October 20, 2022 at 06:25

    There are no words that can fully capture the deep contempt, nay, visceral hatred I feel for those neoliberal/neoconservative chicken-hawk bastards in academia and media that dare suggest we should continue along the path of “tough-guy” talk and nuclear brinkmanship. How dare they. They all deserve a severe beating.

  4. WillD
    October 19, 2022 at 23:56

    Sounds to me like a prelude to the next step, as in George Orwell’s 1984. The slogans “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery”, “ignorance is strength” are becoming more apt to the collective west by the day. We are being bombarded by these nonsensical and contradictory statements by supposedly reputable and trustworthy sources, yet any person who takes the time to actually think about them will see them immediately for what they are. Nonsense designed to mislead and confuse.

    ‘Don’t think too hard about it because it is more complicated than you can understand, but if you insist, then look this way, not that way, to see the truth.’

    It is already apparent that the use of opposites has become normalised. For example, when Biden accuses Putin of dong something, or planning to do something, it can usually be reversed to reveal what he, Biden, is doing or planning to do. It is a common tactic used to prepare the ground for a false flag accusation.

  5. Anon
    October 19, 2022 at 20:50

    Tnx Caitlin, CN… 4 publishing Cuban crisis map.
    While the term: “Believed to be deployed” is… employed to describe Euro/Russian locations… admitted nations include Belgium, France, Turkey, Italy, GB, (perhaps others) while Russian hardware runs several bases on an East- West line appx mid.
    Not til I read Western think tank IISS did my own (60’s childhood “hide under desk”) fears diminish.
    While not minimizing Very Real possibilities… US “Big $ell” citizen propaganda must also hold account.
    At any rate … No Mistaking Russia’s Nuke Vulnerability compared to that of America.

  6. gcw919
    October 19, 2022 at 18:52

    It is the height of ignorance, and hubris, to think that this nuclear brinksmanship is anything but a formula for catastrophe. As the author points out, this world could be transformed by making cooperation the fundamental mode of how countries should function. While the skies of Ukraine continue to hemorrhage green house gases, the pathetic, power-mad people who supposedly ‘govern’ us seem quite content leading us into the abyss.

  7. BB
    October 19, 2022 at 17:22

    It was the United States that started all the modern troubles, because of which the world, more than ever, has come closer to nuclear Armageddon. And only the US can end this very quickly. Suffice it to recall that in addition to military solutions to problems, there are also diplomatic ones.

    • Rob Roy
      October 20, 2022 at 14:05

      I doubt the US will ever use diplomacy. Except for Kennedy re Cuba, it’s not on its agenda. I can’t think of a US Sec. of State who’s ever been diplomatic anywhere about anything. Since Putin became president, he reached out his hand over and over in friendship to be rebuffed every time beginning with Clinton who hated him on sight because he wouldn’t be a puppet like Yeltsin. No one (MSM) talks today about the US coup in 2014 in Ukraine and the 8 years of Nazi killings of over 13,000 Russian speakers in the Donbas. The writing was on the wall. Putin could take no more goading and moved in to do his duty. The West went crazy supplying arms to that odious Zelensky and now look where we are.

  8. James McFadden
    October 19, 2022 at 15:39

    “Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder” should probably be described as “Council on Foreign Relations Shill Timothy Snyder.” As I recall from his tiny book “On Tyranny,” Snyder spent some of the text presenting one sided attacks on Putin and distorted descriptions of events in Syria and Ukraine, with no counterbalancing narrative about America’s hegemony, wars, and CIA coups. I think Snyder is always ready to demonstrate his fealty to the American empire by tweeting neocon narratives.

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