Biden’s ‘Armageddon’ warning ups the stakes with Putin

Biden's 'Armageddon' warning ups the stakes with Putin

It’s terrifying to hear an American president speak openly about the threat of nuclear “Armageddon,” as Joe Biden did on Thursday.

It’s also a statement on the grave uncertainty surrounding how Russian President Vladimir Putin, a self-styled strongman, would react to the growing potential of loss in Ukraine, a war in which he has staked his political existence.

Biden’s statements at a fundraising event in New York might lead to political opponents accusing him of speaking inanely about nuclear war – and at a political fundraiser, of all places. They are, however, ironically reassuring since they depict a president who is acutely aware of the dangers of escalation with the unpredictable Kremlin leader.

And, whether intended for public consumption or not, his remarks will have the impact of communicating to Putin that any use of nuclear weapons – even a smaller battlefield bomb – might trigger a chain reaction of events that could lead to global devastation. In other words, Biden may be reasserting some deterrence after Putin stated that he was not bluffing about his threat to use a nuclear bomb. But Biden’s remarks illustrate that, in one way, Putin’s nuclear threats have worked: they have left his foes guessing about how he will respond.

Biden warned Democratic funders that the globe had reached a tipping point.


“(For the) first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have a direct threat of using (a) nuclear bomb if things continue down the route they are,” Biden added.

“We’ve got a person I know very well,” Biden said of Putin.

“He’s not joking when he talks about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons, biological or chemical weapons, since his military is, shall we say, considerably underperforming.”

US officials are afraid that Putin may consider using a smaller tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine in a desperate bid to change the trajectory of the war. The White House has warned the Kremlin that such a decision would be “catastrophic” for Russia, but has not stated publicly how it would respond – though there is speculation that NATO might get involved and directly target Russian forces, a scenario that could lead to a dangerous escalation with Moscow.

US officials have also stated that they have found no evidence that Russia is moving or preparing any of its tactical nuclear weapons, which can be small enough to attack military formations or large enough to devastate a city. A US official told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond on Friday that Biden was speaking “frankly” in response to Putin’s “irresponsible and reckless” language, but that his remarks were not based on any new knowledge regarding Russia’s nuclear posture. The person also stated that there has been no change in the US nuclear posture.

The burden of Biden

Biden’s remarks on Thursday highlight the responsibility he now has as the first president since the Cold Conflict’s end more than 30 years ago to face the terrifying prospect of nuclear war with Moscow. According to historical reports, Armageddon may have been accidently triggered at least once during the decades-long standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. But the only time Washington and Moscow were on the verge of a deliberate nuclear exchange was in October 1962, during a tense 13-day standoff over Russian plans to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. After extensive diplomacy between Washington and Moscow, Russia’s leader, Nikita Khrushchev, eventually backed down.

Presidents are often less cautious during political fundraising events, which are normally not on camera, despite the fact that a press pool is permitted to attend for some remarks. So it’s plausible that the President’s remarks – his most direct on the nuclear issue since the war in Ukraine began – did not take place in a more traditional context, such as a press conference. Furthermore, the White House has regularly retracted unscripted presidential pronouncements on foreign policy, particularly on how the United States would behave if China attacked Taiwan.

However, Biden’s reflections appear to provide a window into his thinking as he plays out how this crisis will resolve. He appears to have been dealing with the same problems of escalation and avoiding a point of no return that President John F. Kennedy faced in his nuclear poker game in 1962.


“I’m trying to figure out where Putin’s exit is,” Biden stated. “How does he find his way out?” Where does he find himself in a position where he not only loses face but also tremendous authority within Russia?” Biden stated.

The President may have been thinking about John F. Kennedy’s 1963 graduating address at American University in Washington, in which he pondered on the lessons of the Cuban missile crisis and the dangers posed by weapons with the potential to end the world.

“Above all, while defending our own critical interests, nuclear powers must avoid conflicts that force an adversary to choose between humiliating retreat or nuclear war,” Kennedy warned.

“To take that road in the nuclear age would be evidence only of our policy’s failure – or of a collective death wish for the globe.”

Biden has worked hard to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, despite Putin’s portrayal of the war as a clash with the West. The greater strategic risk now is that Russian defeats are pushing Putin into the position that Kennedy warned against, where he may have to choose between humiliation and the use of a nuclear weapon.

There are no exits.

The fact that there is no hope of a diplomatic procedure to end the war complicates matters. Ukraine is in no condition to discuss after an unjustified invasion that has resulted in human misery, especially since Russian troops appear to be on the run. Putin cannot afford any ending to the conflict that does not look like total victory, even if his influence over the Russian media allows him to turn a loss into a win.

During a visit to Peru on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the shortage of diplomatic off ramps.

“The fact is that President Putin and Russia have demonstrated a complete lack of interest in engaging in meaningful diplomacy.” And until they do, it will be difficult to pursue,” Blinken said.

“We’ve always said, and President (Volodymyr) Zelensky has always said, that this would be addressed by diplomacy.” And if and when Russia demonstrates that it is serious about engaging in such diplomacy, we will be ready and present. But, sadly, every sign right now points in the opposite way.”

The longer the fight continues, and the greater the success of Ukraine’s forces, the greater the danger that Putin will grab for his nuclear arsenal to try to change the equation. While some strategists believe he is bluffing or that there are no actual strategic benefits to breaking the nuclear taboo – an act that would further isolate Russia in the world – Western governments are concerned about Putin’s mental health. All of his prior tactical assumptions and judgments in Ukraine have backfired, and he lacks the strategic caution and clarity that is required when deciding whether or not to deploy nuclear weapons.

With that in mind, Biden looked to be making a point, which Putin is sure to hear, that the concept that using a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine could be limited and not escalate to a larger conflagration is incorrect.

The entire strategic logic behind keeping nuclear weapons for self-defense is that they are too horrible to use, and any nation that does would be signing their own death sentence.

The President has now delivered a clear signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that any breach of the nuclear threshold might result in an escalation that would result in a tragic full-fledged nuclear war.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as being able to readily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon without causing Armageddon,” Biden said at the fundraiser.

His remarks highlight his presidency’s most critical mission: guiding the world through the most hazardous nuclear brinkmanship in 60 years.

Since 2014, Eliza Grace has worked as a reporter covering movies and other forms of media. She is particularly well-known for the humorous way in which she analyses film. On a regular basis, she contributes articles to The Current that are movie reviews as well as articles about the newest movies, video games, and entertainment news. Words from Eliza Grace: "There's a standard formula for success in the entertainment medium and that's: Beat it to death if it succeeds."