The War in Ukraine and the Sanctuaries of Rear Support: The Impact of Nuclear Deterrence

By Robbin Laird

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine started with an ill-organized and ill-fated invasion by Russia of Ukraine and is entering its second year.

There are many aspects of the war being studied by militaries worldwide, but one aspect of the conflict is dramatically evident – the war is fueled by supplies from the West delivered by supply lines from the West into Ukraine and supplies from Russian territory into Ukraine supporting Russian forces.

There is evident concern to avoid striking either rear area and there can be little explanation other than the fear of escalation why this is so.

And the escalation at risk is a threat of nuclear use.

The following video highlights how the West is training Ukrainian soldiers on UK soil.

Does any one really believe the Russians would tolerate this if not for British nuclear deterrence reinforced by the American nuclear force?

As Paul Bracken has noted: “Someone called me yesterday to ask if the Russians would actually use nuclear weapons. My response was “they already have.” It’s a nuclear head game, and very dangerous.

“The purpose of the Russian nuclear alert is to deter NATO from massing its forces against Belarus and Ukraine borders. And to signal that the U.S. had better not open up a big electronic warfare or cyber campaign to disrupt Russian Air Forces over Ukraine.

“A U.S. or NATO cyber campaign against distributed tactical nuclear and mobile missiles of Russia would manipulate the risk of escalation, which is why Putin ordered the alert.”

But there is a growing danger of escalation.

On the Western side, prior to the war, there was a de facto expectation that the West could trade space for time in a Russian attack on NATO.

But no state that borders Russia (and now we have a new one in NATO), watching the atrocities the Russians have committed in Ukrainian territory, can want to trade space for time.

This could well mean that these border states want long-range strike weapons as part of their arsenal along with more credible air and missile defense capabilities.

And such long range weapons can be land or air-based and are being built in the West to deal with the distances in the Pacific to deal with the China challenge.

Additionally, the Ukrainians have reputedly asked for longer range missiles which would allow them to hit Russian supply areas deeper into Russia.

The Russians can contemplate various ways chemical weapons could be used against supply chains operating within Ukraine from the West.

Does the West have sufficient defensive capability to keep the supply chain rolling in such circumstances?

Does the West have a realistic offensive answer?

But the core question is simply put: does the possession of nuclear weapons effectively create sanctuaries in your territory in case of conflict?

Does this work with regard to extended deterrence as well by the United States with its allies?

Would this apply to the defense of Australia as it expands its basing support for the United States?

Does this work as well in the Pacific with China, Russia, North Korea and the mainland of the United States effectively sanctuaries?

How does the question affect warfighting strategies, muti-domain or otherwise?

And most of all, the drive toward expanded numbers of nuclear states envisaged in Bracken’s second nuclear age is hardly undercut by the Ukraine war experience to date.

It is most likely a positive proof of the need to do so by a major state.

Note regarding the video:

The British Army has been training Ukrainian recruits on AS-90 self-propelled artillery guns, which are being donated to Ukraine.

The AS-90 is a 155mm mobile artillery system capable of firing up to six rounds per minute.

The United Kingdom has also been running a 35-day training course for Ukrainian volunteer fighters, which teaches them skills to survive in a hostile environment such as weapons handling, marksmanship and the law of armed conflict.

The instructors were from NATO Allies including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as NATO invitee Sweden, and partner countries Australia and New Zealand.

The programme is part of the UK’s commitment to help Ukraine uphold its right to self-defence against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression.

Footage includes firing of the AS-90 artillery system, Ukrainian volunteers on a firing range and training being conducted by UK, Dutch and Norwegian troops.