The (nuclear) Logic behind the escalation by NATO in Ukraine

The latest escalation of the NATO intervention in Ukraine is rapidly spiraling into full-scale war between nuclear-armed states. This is the most reckless decision ever taken by any American government. As for its European allies, their collaboration in this escalation is rivaled in its recklessness only by their catastrophic launching of World War I in 1914 and World War II in 1939. There are no “red lines” that the US ruling class and its imperialist allies will not cross. Even as they politically support and provide weaponry for the Israeli state’s genocide of more than 35,000 Gazans, they are taking actions in Ukraine that could result in a nuclear catastrophe that could destroy all life on the planet. The global capitalist system, whose insoluble global crisis is the underlying cause of genocide and war, is descending into barbarism.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden secretly authorized Ukraine, without even a public statement explaining the reasons for his actions, to carry out strikes using American long-range weapons on Russian territory near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. This was followed immediately by the announcement by Germany that it will do the same. Within 24 hours, Ukraine has already launched strikes on Russia using US-provided weapons. The decision has been taken in response to the military collapse of its Ukrainian proxy force, including in and around Kharkiv.  

The United States, Germany and the United Kingdom have provided Ukraine with cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of more than 300 miles. When fired from Ukrainian territory, these weapons are capable of hitting some of the largest cities in Russia, including Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh, Rostov and Volgograd. 

Not since the Nazi’s “War of Annihilation” against the Soviet Union during the Second World War and, in the case of the US, the post-1917 Revolution Civil War, have the imperialist powers directly targeted Russian territory. Such actions were not taken even at the height of the Cold War, as it was assumed that they would trigger full-scale nuclear war.  

The US media is full of declarations that Russia’s publicly stated, official military doctrine of using nuclear weapons to respond to attacks on its territory is a bluff. The argument is that since Russia has not responded to US provocations in the past, NATO can keep crossing Russia’s “red lines”  without consequences. “Time to call Putin’s bluff,” declared former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger in an article in CNN last week. Retired General Philip Breedlove, former Ambassador Michael McFaul, Stanford Professor Francis Fukuyama and dozens of former US officials wrote in a letter to the White House, “Russia’s demonstrably empty threats are successfully deterring the United States.” 

The claim that Russia’s military doctrine is a “bluff” does not stand up to the most basic scrutiny. Just because the Russian government has not responded to NATO provocations in the past does not mean that it will not do so in the future. Could anyone doubt, for example, that if Russia or China decided to launch attacks on US territory and assert that the American government “wouldn’t dare” to respond, it would be inevitable that the US would counterattack with overwhelming force? 

There are very real reasons, from a military standpoint, why the Russian military would feel compelled to respond in kind to NATO attacks on its territory. Moreover, who is to say that Putin, in the midst of the crisis triggered by the NATO escalation, would not be replaced by a faction that is even more prepared to use military measures to retaliate against NATO? 

Assertions by US officials that the Russian military will not retaliate if attacked are so flimsy that it is likely that these claims are not believed by those making them, and the actual goal is to provoke some form of drastic military action by the Russian government, which will in turn be used to justify a nuclear retaliation by the US.  

In his 2021 book, The Strategy of Denial, Elbridge Colby, author of the 2018 US National Security Strategy, explains how vital it is for US propaganda to force the targets of the US military to “fire the first shot” and thereby be seen as the aggressors: 

Perhaps the clearest and sometimes the most important way of making sure [an adversary] is seen this way is simply by ensuring that it is the one to strike first. Few human moral intuitions are more deeply rooted than that the one who started it is the aggressor and accordingly the one who presumptively owns a greater share of moral responsibility. 

The Biden administration has taken this action without even bothering to make a public statement announcing it. The New York Times wrote on May 29: “Officials concede [Biden] most likely will never announce [the move]: Instead, American artillery shells and missiles will just start landing on Russian military targets.” An earlier article in the Times stated that the US had not allowed the strikes because of “Mr. Biden’s mandate to ‘avoid World War III.’ But the consensus around that policy is fraying.” At no point has the Biden administration explained why what is involved in Ukraine is of such monumental significance that it is prepared to risk a potentially civilization-ending nuclear war. 

The NATO powers are playing Russian roulette with nuclear weapons. They are plunging headlong into war, without even suggesting the possibility of a negotiated settlement or an “off-ramp” to their brinkmanship. 

The latest actions follow a definite pattern. Again and again, the Biden administration has crossed every “red line” it set out to limit US involvement in the war. In March 2022, Biden asserted, “The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews” would mean “World War Three.” In May 2022, Biden stated in an op-ed in the New York Times, “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.” In June 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron declared, “We will not go to war with Russia, therefore it was agreed not to supply certain weapons—in particular, attack aircraft or tanks.”  

All of these “red lines” have been crossed by NATO. First, NATO sent armored vehicles, then main battle tanks, and then long-range missiles. NATO members then secretly deployed hundreds of troops inside Ukraine, all without informing their own citizens. After having declared that direct US involvement in the war in Ukraine would lead to “World War III” and “Armageddon,” Biden appears to have changed his mind, without ever having explained what led him to do so. 

There is no question that the next step in the intensification of the war against Russia will be the introduction of tens of thousands of NATO forces into Ukraine. This further escalation will certainly be the subject of secret discussions at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, D.C. in July. Snap elections in the UK have been called for July 4, in advance of the summit, to preempt growing opposition to war and create the political framework for a new stage in a European-wide war.  

The escalation of the war in Ukraine, spearheaded by the Biden administration, is the most extreme manifestation of the decades-long global eruption of US imperialism in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In pursuit of their interests, the ruling elites are prepared to accept death and destruction on a massive scale. The same governments are funding, arming and politically supporting the Gaza genocide, which has already killed tens of thousands and is subjecting an entire population of over 2 million to starvation. 

The subjugation of Russia is part of a broader global agenda aiming for not only the carve-up and subjugation of the former Soviet Union but ultimately China. The punitive sanctions that were meant to cripple Russia economically have failed to bring it to its knees largely because of large increases in trade with China and to a lesser extent arms from Iran and North Korea. The escalation against Russia therefore will entail a morphing of the conflict in Ukraine into a truly global war. 

In addition to the geopolitical imperatives of imperialism, the Biden administration is driven by a far-reaching social, economic and political crisis for which the American ruling class has no answer. The US economy is sustained through rampant government spending on military rearmament and continuous bailouts of major corporations. The federal debt is doubling every decade and is being financed through currency debasement and debt monetization.

 This is taking place in the context of a staggering political crisis and factional warfare in advance of the 2024 presidential elections. Donald Trump, the presumptive candidate for the Republican Party who is currently leading in polls, attempted to overturn the election in a fascistic coup three and a half years ago. There is broad popular opposition to both capitalist parties, amidst a deep social crisis and growing anger and outrage over the US-backing of Israel’s genocide in Gaza.  

Similar conditions prevail in all the major capitalist countries. The ruling elites hope that war abroad will create conditions for the suppression of democratic rights in the name of war-time “national unity”. This atmosphere of crisis is breeding the resurgence of vile militarism and a type of internal violence that was previously associated only with fascistic regimes and military-police dictatorships… 

… Despite mass protests against the Gaza genocide, broader sections of the population are unaware of the rapidly escalating war with Russia. The ruling elites and their political affiliates, including the apparatus of the trade unions, are engaged in a systematic effort to prevent workers from understanding the gravity of the danger while subordinating the working class to imperialist war policy. 

There is only one way that the spiral toward disaster can be avoided, and that is through the intervention of the working class to force an end to this war. This demand must be combined with a struggle to end Israel’s genocidal onslaught against Gaza. Workers must demand the immediate withdrawal of all US and NATO forces and weapons from Ukraine… 

Excerpt from an article published in

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