Using Psychology as a Nuclear Deterrent

Alternative Perspectives

Dr. David Charney has practiced psychiatry for more than 47 years. He is an Air Force veteran and a former referral consultant to the Central Intelligence Community. He served on the defense team for accused spy Earl Pitts and also worked with convicted spy Robert Hanssen. He is a recognized authority on insider threat inside the intelligence community and is the Medical Director at Roundhouse Square Counseling Center.

View all articles by David Charney

OPINION — I have growing concerns about the naked threats regarding use of nuclear weapons currently voiced by more of the senior characters surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin. These threats are designed to intimidate the U.S. into helpless acquiescence.  

The prospect of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons is truly terrifying because what’s playing out daily before our eyes in Ukraine is proven unconstrained no-holds-barred brutality. Unfortunately, this makes Russia’s potential decision to escalate to nuclear weapons quite thinkable—rather than unthinkable.  What can persuade Putin to pull back at this juncture?

Probably nothing.

That’s why persuading decision makers lower down the chain may be our best point of leverage. Members of the Russian nuclear forces must be made aware of what’s at stake for them personally. Now, not later. That’s because the key aim with nuclear is to deter, not to punish later. The principle underlying the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Is there a deterrence strategy that would work with all, or even many, in the Russian nuclear forces with the intent to raise sufficient doubt and division within their collective minds so that all members of the Russian nuclear forces become unsure as to who among their ranks has rethought their willingness to comply with a catastrophic order from their President? Ideally, it would be successful at a flag rank level. 

Perhaps more importantly, the benefit would be if it created enough concern in Putin’s mind. He would be made nervous and uncertain as to whether his order to launch would be executed. He would lose certainty about his reliable ‘ace in the hole’. This might change his calculations for opening up to a satisfactory diplomatic solution.

I propose publishing a letter in newspapers around the world, addressed to members of Russian Nuclear Forces, meant to force thinking about the day after, and the days after that.

IF EVEN ONE. If even one so-called “tactical.” If even one. We know who you are. All of you. All of you will be held responsible. Top to bottom. We will find you. No place to hide. No excuses. No time limit. No more sleep.

This would be in the same spirit as our intelligence transparency operations before the war began. It would show Russian nuclear force commanders that we do know who they are. And we bluntly present the personal consequences for all of them complicit with a nuclear attack. Consequences that would follow them—and their families—for the rest of their lives, forever.

The Cipher Brief is committed to publishing a range of expert-level opinions on national security issues.  Opinions expressed are always those of the author and do not represent The Cipher Brief.  Have an opinion to share?  Drop us an email: [email protected]

Alternative Perspectives
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