Medea Benjamin Nicolas J S Davies Russia-Ukraine

Joe Biden’s Broken Promise To Avoid War With Russia Could Lead To Armageddon

“We will not fight a war with Russia in Ukraine," Biden told us in March. But that war has already started.
President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Thursday, August 25, 2022, in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies / Salon

On March 11, 2022, President Biden reassured the American public and the world that the United States and its NATO allies were not at war with Russia. “We will not fight a war with Russia in Ukraine,” said Biden. “Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent.” 

It is widely acknowledged that U.S. and NATO officers are now fully involved in Ukraine’s operational war planning, aided by a broad range of U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis to exploit Russia’s military vulnerabilities, while Ukrainian forces are armed with U.S. and NATO weapons and trained up to the standards of other NATO countries.

On Oct. 5, Nikolay Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council, recognized that Russia is now fighting NATO in Ukraine. Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has reminded the world that Russia has nuclear weapons and is prepared to use them “when the very existence of the state is put under threat,” as Russia’s official nuclear weapons doctrine declared in June 2020. 

It seems likely that, under that doctrine, Russia’s leaders would interpret losing a war to the U.S. and NATO on their own borders as meeting the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons.  

President Biden acknowledged on Oct. 6 that Putin is “not joking” and that it would be difficult for Russia to use a “tactical” nuclear weapon “and not end up with Armageddon.” Biden assessed the danger of a full-scale nuclear war as higher than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. 

Yet despite voicing the possibility of an existential threat to our survival, Biden was not issuing a public warning to the American people and the world, nor announcing any change in U.S. policy. Bizarrely, the president was instead discussing the prospect of nuclear war with the Democratic Party’s financial backers during an election fundraiser at the home of media mogul James Murdoch, with surprised corporate media reporters listening in.  

In an NPR report about the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine, Matthew Bunn, a nuclear weapons expert at Harvard University, estimated the chance of Russia using a nuclear weapon at 10 to 20 percent. 

How have we gone from ruling out direct U.S. and NATO involvement in the war to U.S. involvement in all aspects of the war except for the bleeding and dying, with an estimated 10 to 20 percent chance of nuclear war? Bunn made that estimate shortly before the sabotage of the Kerch Strait Bridge to Crimea. What odds will he project a few months from now if both sides keep matching each other’s escalations with further escalation?    

The irresolvable dilemma facing Western leaders is that this is a no-win situation. How can they militarily defeat Russia, when it possesses 6,000 nuclear warheads and its military doctrine explicitly states that it will use them before it will accept an existential military defeat? 

Yet that is what the intensifying Western role in Ukraine now explicitly aims to achieve. This leaves U.S. and NATO policy, and thus our very existence, hanging by a thin thread: the hope that Putin is bluffing, despite explicit warnings that he is not. CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and the director of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, have all warned that we should not take this danger lightly.

The danger of relentless escalation toward Armageddon is what both sides faced throughout the Cold War, which is why, after the wake-up call of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, dangerous brinkmanship gave way to a framework of nuclear arms control agreements and safeguard mechanisms to prevent proxy wars and military alliances spiraling into a world-ending nuclear war. Even with those safeguards in place, there were still many close calls — but without them, we would probably not be here to write about it.

Today, the situation is made more dangerous by the dismantling of those nuclear arms treaties and safeguards. It is also exacerbated, whether either side intends it or not, by the 12 to 1 imbalance between U.S. and Russian military spending, which leaves Russia with more limited conventional military options and a greater reliance on nuclear ones.

But there have always been alternatives to the relentless escalation of this war by both sides that has brought us to this pass. In April, Western officials took a fateful step when they persuaded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to abandon Turkish- and Israeli-brokered negotiations with Russia that had produced a promising 15-point framework for a ceasefire, a Russian withdrawal and a neutral future for Ukraine.

That agreement would have required Western countries to provide security guarantees to Ukraine, but they refused to be party to it and instead promised Ukraine military support for a long war to seek a decisive defeat Russia and recovery of essentially all the territory Ukraine has lost since 2014.   

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared that the West’s goal in the war was now to “weaken” Russia to the point that it would no longer have the military power to invade Ukraine again. But if the U.S. and its allies ever came close to achieving that goal, Russia would surely see such a total military defeat as putting “the very existence of the state under threat,” triggering the use of nuclear weapons under its publicly stated nuclear doctrine.   

On May 23, the very day that Congress passed a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, including $24 billion in new military spending, the contradictions and dangers of the new U.S.-NATO war policy in Ukraine finally spurred a critical response from the New York Times editorial board. A Times editorial, titled “The Ukraine War is Getting Complicated, and America Is Not Ready,” asked serious, probing questions about the new U.S. policy:

Is the United States, for example, trying to help bring an end to this conflict, through a settlement that would allow for a sovereign Ukraine and some kind of relationship between the United States and Russia? Or is the United States now trying to weaken Russia permanently? Has the administration’s goal shifted to destabilizing Putin or having him removed? Does the United States intend to hold Putin accountable as a war criminal? Or is the goal to try to avoid a wider war… ? Without clarity on these questions, the White House…jeopardizes long-term peace and security on the European continent.

The Times editors went on to voice what many have thought but few have dared to say in such a politicized media environment: The goal of recovering all the territory Ukraine has lost since 2014 is not realistic, and a war with those aims will “inflict untold destruction on Ukraine.” They called on Biden to talk honestly with Zelenskyy about “how much more destruction Ukraine can sustain” and the “limit to how far the United States and NATO will confront Russia.”

A week later, Biden replied to the Times in an op-ed titled “What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine.” He quoted Zelenskyy saying that the war “will only definitively end through diplomacy,” and wrote that the U.S. was sending weapons and ammunition so that Ukraine “can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.” 

Biden wrote, “We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia.… the United States will not try to bring about [Putin’s] ouster in Moscow.” But he went on to pledge virtually unlimited U.S. support for Ukraine, and did not answer the more difficult questions the Times had asked about the U.S. endgame in Ukraine, the limits to U.S. involvement in the war or how much more devastation Ukraine could sustain.

As the war escalates and the danger of nuclear war increases, these questions remain unanswered. Calls for a speedy end to the war echoed around the UN General Assembly in New York in September, where 66 countries, representing most of the world’s population, urgently called on all sides to restart peace talks.  

The greatest danger we face is that their calls will be ignored, and that the U.S. military-industrial complex’s overpaid minions will keep finding ways to incrementally turn up the pressure on Russia, calling its bluff and ignoring its “red lines,” as they have since 1991, until they cross the most critical “red line” of all.

If the world’s calls for peace are heard before it is too late and we survive this crisis, the United States and Russia must renew their commitments to arms control and nuclear disarmament, and negotiate how they and other nuclear armed states will destroy their weapons of mass destruction and accede to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, so that we can finally lift this unthinkable and unacceptable danger hanging over our heads.


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Nicolas J.S. Davies
Nicolas J.S. Davies

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

10 comments

  1. It is not simply Joe Biden, it is the Fascist Corporate Cabal behind him supporting this game, risking the lives of everyone on the planet. Pure Stupidity, like children playing with bombs. This idiots all must go. Eliminate “Corporate Status”, Reconfigure the Military so that it can operate under 100 Billion dollars. Put the rest of the money into infrastructure, Social Security and Health Care., and develop spirituality to a point where it is on par with technology, so there is balance in our lives. Humanity does not want war, the Dark Evil Demonic beings in control do.

  2. More extinction hysteria from “mainstream Medea” – there is not going to be a global nuclear war – it is not going to happen – stop parroting your feverish rhetoric which serves only to escalate anxiety at time when people have enough already to worry about – you have already made a name for yourself in this narcissistic arena of celebrity peace activism – you have a sufficient number now, fawning over you and hanging on to every word – apparently that is not enough to satisfy your insatiable appetite – give us all a break for fuck’s sake !

    1. If you are so appalled about these peace mongers, why do you not read something else, there is enough war mongering news around. I would think it is essential for us to hear what is going on behind the government’s closed doors – we should ALL be on the streets demanding an end to this crazy military/security-state budget. Weapons do not save lives, but negotiations do …

    2. While you tip toe through the tulips hoping that fuck gives you a break, consider what other people are concerned with. Why do you feel you have the power to predict what is happening with nuclear war? If it does happen it would be useless to tell you we told you so.

    3. Oh, that is good. Ignore the nuclear threat, while many in the media and government officials from many different Nations are calling on Western Nations to use nuclear weapons.

      Anybody heard any good troll jokes lately, i.e. like, how many trolls does it take to unscrew the lightbulb at the end of the tunnel?

  3. It seems pointless to focus on some sort of negotiated end to the ground war in Ukraine without also thinking seriously about how to negotiate an end to the much more serious economic war declared by the US and its Western allies.

    Without some resolution to the sanctions and embargoes, Europe and Japan, heavily dependent on Russian energy are in serious trouble. Much of Africa and the global south also are in dire need of Russian energy, fertilizer, and Ukrainian food. The sanctions that deprive them of access are an existential threat to them, far greater than the ground war in Ukraine.

  4. There is never a mention how Biden as Vice President helped orchestrate the 2014 armed coup in Ukraine. The media should be playing, repeatedly, the leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt as both were discussing who they decide who will be Ukraine’s next president; the criteria was someone who favors the US over the EU and must be anti-Russian. They insult us when they say we are supporting Ukraine so it remains a democracy able to decide for itself the future of Ukraine…really?

    Biden wants to look tough as the midterm elections draw near. Had he an ounce of decency he could have prevented the Russian intervention before February 2022 by not offering Ukraine a membership into NATO. The least he should do now is broker a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. He lacks the courage and the wisdom. I will not vote until this threat of nuclear war is cools off and a Treaty is signed for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

    We should insist on knowing the purpose of those U.S. owned biological/chemical labs are doing in Ukraine. A lot is happening all while the corporate news continues to fail the American people. We have a right to know.

  5. “Americans have been liars and braggarts for 3 centuries”. Daniel Boorstin
    “the cult of sincerity—americans are not sincere–it is a performance”. David Riesman
    “americans are entirely confused about themselves”. Simone de Beauvoir
    “americans are 300 million used car salesmen that have no qualms about killing anyone that makes them uncomfortable”. hunter Thompson
    “the artificial sexual scarcity in america derives from the American money neurosis….americans have always been genocidal enjoying killing from afar”. Philip Slater
    “americans are mean and bitter….only in america do people act like machines are treated like machines and only in america are machine metaphors used to explain human behavior”. Geoffrey Gorer
    “the men americans most admire dare to tell them the most extravagant lies–the men they most despise try to tell them the truth”. hl menkhen

  6. The capitalist American system is the problem. Only a Socialist government, dedicated to peace and prosperity, can bring peace and prevent nuclear Armageddon.

  7. The United States has been trying to weaken Russia permanently since, at least, 1991. That is at the root of this mess.

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