Headlines today are being made by a US Senator who, they claim, threatened to nuke Russia over a theoretical invasion of the Ukraine. I don’t have a problem with the statement. Let me explain by starting with what the Senator said:
When asked to clarify what he meant by “military action,” Wicker recounted measures ranging from the American “ships in the Black Sea” to “first-use nuclear action.”
“We don’t rule out first-use nuclear action, we don’t think it will happen but there are certain things in negotiations, if you are going to be tough, that you don’t take off the table,” the Mississippi senator added.
If the United States (or any nation) is attempting to influence another nation, that other nation doesn’t need to know what the limits of the US response are going to be. This keeps the other side from doing a cost benefit analysis and deciding that it’s worth it. If you are threatening a military response, but then go ahead and outline the limits of that response, you are weakening your own position.
It’s like dealing with an armed robber. Let’s say that the robber is in the middle of robbing a store that you are standing in. You point a gun at him and tell him to stop robbing the store, or else. He replies, “Or else what?” and then you tell him, “Or else I will send you a strongly worded letter, or perhaps I will report you to the cops, but what I won’t do is shoot you.” How do you think that will work out?
What if instead, you tell him, “If you rob this store, I will turn your head into a canoe” What would happen then?
You want the enemy to know there will be a response, you want them to know it will be painful, but you don’t want them to know that all you have in your hand is a pair of fives.