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Some weapons are too terrible ever to be used.

Putin’s veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine deserves thorough condemnation. But more importantly, it requires a steady response of de-escalation.

The United States has recognized this truth by signing and ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which bans the use of weapons such as booby traps, incendiary devices, and blinding laser weapons. Much of the rest of the world has gone even further, by prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions, and most recently, nuclear weapons.

Indeed, under international law, states have an obligation to refrain from using weapons or taking actions that impose unnecessary human suffering; cause widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment; or harm civilians indiscriminately or disproportionately.

That’s why, as a moral matter as well as a legal one, there are no conditions under which the use of a nuclear weapon can ever be justified. Not only would the use of a single nuclear weapon, regardless of its size, cause grievous human and environmental harm, but any nuclear use could set in motion a rapid escalation to planetary annihilation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine is a horrifying act of nuclear blackmail that contradicts his own admission that “there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be unleashed.” It deserves thorough condemnation. But more importantly, it requires a steady response of de-escalation.

U.S. use of a nuclear weapon, even on a limited scale, would serve no military purpose and endanger the future of humanity.

Dialogue with Russia is not capitulation or appeasement. It is, in fact, the only sane response to the insanity of nuclear brinksmanship. The war in Ukraine has already dragged on too long, with too great a toll on civilian life and on the global economy. It will not be won militarily. It will only come to an end through sustained, serious, and skillful diplomacy.

Should Putin do the unthinkable and explode a nuclear weapon, the United States must not make the tragic mistake of responding in kind. U.S. use of a nuclear weapon, even on a limited scale, would serve no military purpose and endanger the future of humanity. There is only one way to prevent such a catastrophe, and it is not through intensified threats, intimidation, and violence. It is through negotiation and compromise—starting with a joint pledge that neither nation will ever use nuclear weapons first.

Diana Ohlbaum, Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum

Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy
Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.