Threat of nuclear war should put U.S. on high alert

By Berl Falbaum

I read the paragraph several times. I wanted to make sure I understood all of its implications. When I did, just one word came to mind: Insanity.

Insanity, pure insanity.

How else can one describe Russian President Putin’s threat to launch nuclear weapons and destroy the Earth?

In his annual state of the nation speech (February 29), Putin was very clear about the threat. He bragged about his country’s nuclear arsenal and that he was prepared to use it even if he had to sacrifice Russia and the rest of the world.


While acknowledging that a nuclear attack would bring retaliation, Putin nevertheless threatened such an attack which, in effect, would be a death sentence for Russians and have worldwide consequences.

For what? A nuclear Armageddon does not achieve his objective of taking Ukraine.


This is stuff for psychiatrists not political pundits or analysts. This is impossible to deal with rationally.

Mr. Putin said NATO countries that were helping Ukraine strike Russian territory “must, in the end, understand” that “all this truly threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, and therefore the destruction of civilization.

“…[W]e also have weapons capable of striking targets on their territory.  Everything they are inventing now, spooking the world with a threat of a conflict involving nuclear weapons, which potentially means the end of civilization -- don’t they realize this?

“Strategic nuclear forces are on full combat alert and the ability to use them is assured,” he said.


He has suspended participation in NewSTART, Russia’s last major arms limitation treaty with Washington and has moved tactical nuclear weapons to ally, Belarus.

NewSTART, which limits the number of warheads that each side can deploy to 1,500, was due to expire in 2026. The U.S. and Russian have 90 percent of the world’s 12,500 nuclear warheads held by nine countries.


Incidentally, Putin’s threat came about two weeks before The New York Times published a series of articles on the threat of nuclear war. Resulting from a year of reporting and research, the series is titled “The Threat of Nuclear Weapons in an Unstable World.”

In the series’ introduction, Kathleen Kingsbury, opinion editor, writes: “The growing threat of nuclear weapons is simply not part of the public conversation. And the world is less secure. Today the nuclear safety net is threadbare.”

W.J. Hennigan, the project’s lead writer, describes what would happen if one -- just one -- nuclear device were detonated. It is hair-raising, not bedtime reading.

He observes: “Even a limited nuclear war could be catastrophic.  A 2022 scientific study found that if 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, less than one percent of the estimated global nuclear arsenal, were detonated in certain cities it would generate more than five million tons of airborne soot… creating the largest worldwide famine in history.  An estimated 27 million could immediately die and as many as 225 million may starve within two years.”


He makes public how close the world came to breaking the “decades-long nuclear taboo” in the fall of 2022. The odds of a nuclear strike at the time were 50-50, according to expert analysts and, as far as I know, not one word was published on this threat.

Here is how Hennigan says the threat developed and how the U.S. responded:

The Russians said that Ukraine was planning to use a so-called “dirty bomb” which the U.S. and Ukraine decided was a ploy to give Russia an excuse to use a nuclear weapon. Supplies were flown to Europe; hundreds of radiation detectors were set up; U.S. sent more than 1,000 hand-held radiation monitors; 200 Ukraine hospitals were identified as go-to facilities; thousands of doctors and nurses were trained to respond appropriately; and millions of potassium iodide tablets were stock piled around the country.

“Nuclear war is often described as unimaginable. In fact, it’s not imagined enough,” Hennigan said.  


For a week, the White House and the highest-ranking officials worked around the clock and planned for the worst.

A nuclear doomsday was averted, but as Putin makes clear and The Times articles corroborate, the world is sitting on a nuclear power keg, and the dangers of it exploding are not far-fetched. We cannot rely or take solace in the fact that we were on the right side of the 50-50 odds in 2022.

“The possibility of a nuclear strike, once inconceivable in modern conflict, is more likely now than at any other time since the Cold War,” says Hennigan. He continues:

“…[M]ost of the world has barely registered the [nuclear] threat. Perhaps it’s because an entire generation came of age in a post-Cold War world, when the possibility of nuclear war was thought to be firmly behind us. It is time to remind ourselves of the consequences in order to avoid them.”

We cannot and must not let this insanity fester without treatment.


Berl Falbaum is a long time political reporter and author.