Recently, the New York Times (Sunday, May 14, 2023) published an article by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University. Snyder did not directly say “Don’t Worry About a Nuclear War—If There Is One, Russia Will Lose!”—but he might as well have said that. The actual title of his article is “Putin Is Fighting, and Losing, His Last War,” and this article is a shameless apology for U.S. imperialism, overall and specifically in its proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.
Snyder’s arguments, reeking of American supremacist arrogance, are despicable, and they are dangerous—not simply downplaying the possibility of nuclear war but concluding the article with the claim that the threat of nuclear war must be ended with Russia’s swift defeat (or, in the words of Snyder’s final sentence: “When Russians talk about nuclear war, the safest response is to ensure their very conventional defeat”).
Snyder makes the specious (seemingly logical but deceptive) argument that since nuclear powers, including the Soviet Union as well as the U.S., have lost wars without resorting to the use of nuclear weapons, there is no significant danger now of nuclear war arising out of the conflict in Ukraine. Besides the fact that nuclear war could erupt out of accident or miscalculation by either or both sides in the Ukraine conflict, this argument of Snyder’s ignores, or glosses over, other particular dangers of this situation.
The U.S. is very heavily involved in the war in Ukraine—massively arming Ukraine, increasingly providing training, as well as intelligence and planning, for the Ukrainian forces, and using Ukrainian troops as cannon fodder in this war. The U.S. has openly declared that its objective in this war is a defeat for Russia, reducing Russia’s power, status and influence in the world, and preventing Russia from posing a significant challenge to the “international order” in which U.S. imperialism is the dominant power. (Another objective of the U.S., and in particular the Biden administration, is to solidify and strengthen NATO as a powerful military force of “western” imperialism, headed by the U.S.—and to repair the damage that was done to this NATO alliance by Trump during his presidency.) The U.S. actions in Ukraine also seem to have the aim of “sending a message to China,” which the U.S. imperialists, in both ruling class parties, regard as the most serious challenger to U.S. world dominance. Delivering a defeat to Russia in Ukraine could, the U.S. imperialists hope, issue a warning to China about the danger of confronting U.S./NATO military power and could undermine an alliance between China and a significantly weakened Russia. Such are the calculations—the “gangster logic”— of imperialist oppressors.
More Ridiculous—and Reckless—Argument from Snyder
Listen to this “logic” from Snyder:
If Russia detonated a [nuclear] weapon, it would lose that jealously guarded treasure of superpower status.
Really—that is all (or the most essential thing) that would happen if Russia used nuclear weapons?! Here Snyder is truly blinded by his American supremacist arrogance—and he seems set on obscuring reality for the rest of us. The actual reality, in contrast to the dangerous delusions Snyder is spreading, is that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine—even “tactical” nuclear weapons—would lead to a massively destructive response by the U.S./NATO. And even if that U.S./NATO response itself were non-nuclear, it would very likely provoke a further escalation by Russia. This dynamic could very easily lead to strategic nuclear war between the two sides, with the prospect of wiping out human civilization as we know it.
Here is more demagogic and dangerous “logic” from Snyder:
By taking nuclear blackmail seriously, we have actually increased the overall chances of nuclear war. If nuclear blackmail enables a Russian victory, the consequences will be incalculably awful. If any country with nuclear weapons can do whatever it likes, then law means nothing, no international order is possible, and catastrophe beckons at every turn.
This from a craven apologist of U.S. imperialism, which has established and enforced an “international order,” with itself as the dominant imperialist power, through repeated invasions, coups, and other violent interference in countries all over the world, at the cost of millions of lives and massive destruction. The U.S. imperialists by far hold the record for violent aggression against other countries and peoples. And, as instruments of this continuing violent aggression, the U.S. maintains hundreds of military bases in countries all around the world and a military budget greater than Russia and China combined.
As for nuclear blackmail, that is what the U.S. has, for decades, done to the rest of the world, with its ongoing threat of using nuclear weapons, whether that threat is openly stated or not—a threat that is all more ominous because, let us not forget, the U.S. is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons, dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities at the end of World War 2, incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians, and causing horrific suffering and slow, agonizing deaths for many who, at least for a time, survived the initial blast. The U.S. imperialists have never acknowledged that it was wrong to carry out these atomic bomb attacks—and, of course, they have not renounced the use of nuclear weapons, and they continue to “upgrade” their massive “nuclear arsenal.”
(Exposure and analysis of many of the egregious crimes of the U.S. ruling class, around the world, as well as within the U.S. itself, are contained in the “American Crime” series, and other works, at revcom.us.)
Of course, one of the scenarios that Snyder posits is possible—that Putin would pull back from Ukraine while declaring “victory” because Russia faced (and faced down) the U.S./NATO in Ukraine, fighting them to a standstill. But there is certainly no guarantee of things going that way! And what if Putin is serious about the orientation that a nuclear power does not lose wars, especially if that loss poses a serious threat to its existence, or its status in the world? This must be viewed in the context where the U.S. has declared and is determined that Russia must suffer defeat in this war—a major war in a country (Ukraine) right on the border with Russia. (This analogy has been made before, and it definitely helps to sharpen things up: What would the U.S. rulers do if they invaded Mexico, then Russia massively intervened on the side of Mexico, with the result that this became a major showdown between these two world powers, each possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, and Russia declared its determination to deliver a defeat to the U.S. in this war?)
The Way Out of This Madness
It is true that, so long as there are nuclear armed imperialist (and other reactionary) states, the people of the world will be subject to nuclear blackmail. That underscores once again the profound, and acute, importance of my statement that the people of the world can no longer afford to allow these imperialists to dominate the world and determine the destiny of humanity—they need to be overthrown as quickly as possible. (This statement is part of interviews that were done with me last fall on the YouTube RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show.)
As I have also emphasized, those who hunger for a more just world need to oppose all imperialist wars, and all oppressive actions and relations carried out and enforced by ruling classes everywhere. And more specifically, those living in one imperialist country or another need to be, first and above all, opposing their own imperialist ruling class—that is the only morally and politically justified position. This means that people in Russia need to be primarily concerned with opposing Russian imperialism and its unjust role in the war in Ukraine. In this imperialist country (the “good ole USA”) it is our responsibility not to be craven apologists for “our own” imperialist ruling class but, in opposition to that, firm and determined opponents of these imperialists and their monstrous crimes, while also opposing other imperialist and oppressive forces. This is not only a matter of fundamental principle, in a general sense—it takes on even greater importance given that U.S. imperialism has, for decades, been the dominant oppressive power in the world, wreaking havoc on people all over the world (as well as the environment).
In this process of fighting for a more just world—and most essentially in carrying forward the work of revolution toward the ultimate goal of a world without imperialist (and other reactionary and oppressive) forces and relations—it will be necessary to expose and refute the shameful (or shameless) and highly dangerous demagoguery of their defenders and apologists, like Timothy Snyder.