The updated definition of a "red line," relative to what would it take for world leaders to unleash nuclear weapons on enemy nations, has become a debate topic in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin's threats of using nuclear weapons in his country's ongoing war with Ukraine.
According to The Hill, U.S. officials have previously pledged "catastrophic consequences" if Putin orders the deployment of nuclear weapons. However, in a television interview Wednesday, President Joe Biden declined to offer specifics regarding such a move.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently told The Hill that Biden should clearly outline the Pentagon's response, before Putin takes the nuclear route.
The U.S. "will not feel constrained to basically provide direct support to the Ukrainians to be able to ultimately win this war and defeat Putin," said Panetta. "The president is talking about Armageddon; he's talking about catastrophic consequences. I cannot imagine that if Putin uses a nuclear weapon that doesn't take the nuclear genie out of the bottle."
Security analysts who spoke to The Hill had differing opinions from those of Panetta.
"What you don't want to do is to say very specifically, 'If A, then B,' because then what you do is you allow Putin to kind of have that calculation," said Steven Horrell, a former U.S. naval intelligence officer who's now with the Center for European Policy Analysis.
Vague proclamations may provide the White House and Pentagon freedom to make certain maneuvers. At the same time, it seemingly dilutes the urgency of a so-called "red line."
"If, at some point, the U.S. finds itself in a position where it has to respond, clearly that's a trigger for escalation," siad Matthew Droin, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"'Red line' is, I think, a very scary word in Washington, particularly following President [Barack] Obama and the red lines supposedly drawn in Syria; and a lot of politicians and also leaders will shy away from that," Monica Montgomery, a policy analyst for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, recently told The Hill.
Montgomery was likely referencing a 2012 speech from Obama, in which the then-president pledged to intervene in the Syrian civil war if Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces used chemical weapons.
After reports of chemical weapons being used surfaced a year later, though, the Obama White House didn't follow through with a military response.
"I think Putin's already extremely aware of the risks that nuclear use would bring NATO into the theater," said Montgomery, while adding that not all types of nuclear weapons would justify an end-of-the-world response.
Last week on Newsmax, Dick Morris, a political strategist and adviser to former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, predicted Putin and Biden would have an "October surprise" right before the Nov. 8 midterms, which would involve the mutually beneficial threat of a nuclear war.
In his book "The Return: Trump's Big 2024 Comeback," Morris outlined how Biden and Putin have their proverbial backs to the wall, politically.
Note: Get Dick Morris' new book "The Return" on Trump's secret plan for 2024. See It Here!
One "wagging the dog" hypothetical involves Putin amping up his threats of using nuclear weapons "to distract attention away from his defeats in Ukraine" and Biden reflexively ratcheting up the anti-nuke rhetoric against Putin, knowing the Russian president has no plans to initiate worldwide nuclear warfare.
From Morris' perspective, the Democrats will then use Biden's tough talk against Putin, as a means of rallying the country "in a time of national crisis" — just in time for the midterms.
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