In an unwelcome throwback from the Cold War past, Russian diplomacy in recent months has featured a variety of nuclear threats, ranging from Putin’s musings on nuclear options during the Crimea crisis and purchasing new intercontinental ballistic missiles to a threat to nuke the Danish Navy. These threats are most likely just bluster or an attempt to compensate for Russia’s weakness in conventional military power. But given that Russian nuclear forces still have at least the theoretical potential to destroy civilization, it nonetheless makes sense to take such threats seriously and to consider the meaning for NATO, which up until 2014 had focused more on engaging with Russia as a potential partner.
On July 8, the Center on the United States and Europe and the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at Brookings hosted a panel discussion examining the meaning of Russia’s nuclear threats, the motivation for those threats, and the state of Russian and U.S. nuclear forces. The event featured Brookings Senior Fellow Steven Pifer, Pavel Baev, research director at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Brookings Fellow Jeremy Shapiro introduced and moderated the panel.