America and NATO must seek a decisive victory for Ukraine. Victory must be attained quickly on Ukraine’s terms. Only this will save lives. It is a profound error to attempt to accommodate Russia. No such strategies should be put forward.
Pursuing half measures will result in more bloodshed, not less. Without highly sophisticated weapons, Ukraine will not regain all of its stolen territory, and its army and its air force may ultimately falter, for lack of equipment.
The war can be won if America and the West supply our most capable conventional weapons to Kyiv. Those who argue against such transfers often cite the threat posed by Russia’s nuclear weapons. Recently, Colin H. Kahl, President Biden’s undersecretary of defense for policy, said, “Ukraine’s success on the battlefield could cause Russia to feel backed into a corner, and that is something we must remain mindful of.” This is exactly the opposite of what should be stated.
Vladimir Putin seeks global stature for Russia, for it is a failed state in severe demographic decline. The Biden administration’s fear of escalation is, in fact, inherently destabilizing for it demonstrates weakness, which the Kremlin uses to its advantage. Fear has set the stage for increased carnage, whereas countervailing force limits the potential for this war to spiral outward.
Russia realizes that an attack against NATO will result in the defeat of its forces. Moscow, however, believes, with some justification, that the West is hobbled by indecision. This is why Mr. Putin continuously asserts Russia’s nuclear might through blatant threats. We must not succumb to Mr. Putin’s disingenuous ploys.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration is demonstrating its ineptitude in this global game of chess. If America is to best Mr. Putin’s gambit, we must think many moves ahead; we must not be reactive.
The United States and NATO have imposed self-restricting limits in answering Moscow. Europe is still bound to Russian energy supplies, and America has demurred from sending Abrams tanks or fighter aircraft to Ukraine: This trepidation emboldens Mr. Putin.
The use by Mr. Putin of a low-yield, tactical nuclear weapon is possible. On June 2, 2020, Executive Order 355 was promulgated by Russia’s president; it is titled Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence. This document is the Russian Federation’s public description of its nuclear policy.
The purpose of the Russian doctrine is the “protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State, and deterrence of a potential adversary from aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.” It further stipulates that “The decision to use nuclear weapons is taken by the President of the Russian Federation.”
Most of Mr. Putin’s executive order concerns the employment of nuclear weapons by the Russian state in response to a nuclear strike. There are, however, exceptions. The document states, “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to … aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”
In response, the United States and our allies should steadfastly assert that Russia’s patently illegal referendums to incorporate parts of Ukraine into Russia hold no legitimacy. The Kremlin should be warned that actions to liberate parts of Ukraine, held by Russia under the charade of false referendums, do not constitute an attack on Russia.
In addition, we must hold the People’s Republic of China accountable economically and financially if Mr. Putin were to detonate a nuclear weapon, for China has facilitated the Kremlin’s military onslaught ─ rather than condemning it. U.S. trade in goods with China amounted to more than $656 billion in 2021. The entirety of this trade and the over $1 trillion in U.S. holdings of Chinese equities and bonds should be openly placed at risk to persuade President Xi Jinping to constrain Mr. Putin.
If Mr. Putin should employ a nuclear weapon, Taiwan will be next, and Iran will be animated to attack Israel with nuclear-armed missiles. China must be put on notice immediately: If Mr. Putin uses a nuclear weapon, America will devastate the Chinese economy through our cessation of trade and capital investments. It is incumbent on China to take action now to avert such a chain of events.
Holding ready the threat of severe economic penalties, America must also mandate that China agree to meaningful nuclear arms reduction talks, as the Chinese arsenal of nuclear weapons is growing at an unprecedented pace. This is inherently destabilizing.
A rapid, comprehensive victory by Ukraine will result in less pain to Russia than a drawn-out war that will bleed its military and permanently shatter its economy. Our immediate provision of conventional weapons of decisive lethality to Ukraine is critical to ending this conflict swiftly, thus preventing further escalation. Such a course will save lives and will hasten the day when Russia may return as a member of the international community, under different leadership, with an economy that can be salvaged.
• Michael R. Pompeo is the 70th secretary of state.