Regarding Putin and his nuclear threats, think the unthinkable, and prepare

As President Reagan’s Principal Director of Mobilization and Planning in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the 1980s, I was responsible for the Department of Defense’s responsibilities for Civil Defense for all Americans.

Those days become vivid to me as President Putin of Russia this week has vowed to use nuclear weapons on the West should he not achieve his objectives in taking Ukraine:

It now appears that the bluff and bluster of the old Soviet Union, as stated by Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, in 1956 -- “We will bury you” -- is back with a vengeance.

LONDON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia's first mobilization since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he'd be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

When President George W. Bush (43) became president, I had the opportunity to sit next to a brilliant deterrence theorist, the late Andy Marshall. He was the legionary director of the Office of Net Assessment. I asked him if he thought the DOD Office of Mobilization and Planning should be reconstituted because it had been eliminated in the famous or infamous Cold War "peace dividend" during the Clinton administration.  Mr. Marshall was greatly in favor of all aspects of Civil Defense, but it was not to be.

Currently the administration is getting appropriate credit for not escalating Putin’s nuclear threat with a U.S. nuclear threat; because the U.S. doesn’t need to do that since Russian military leaders well know our capability.

Biden has taken various steps to avoid escalating tensions with Russia. He’s postponed an intercontinental ballistic missile test, nixed a plan to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, and has refused to match Putin’s heated rhetoric with threats of his own.

However, it is also time and prudence dictates a national discussion on Civil Defense preparedness.

If such a discussion is initiated with thoughtful mainstream media messaging on how the U.S. population can be better prepared and resourceful in facing the horror of an incoming strike, then as said during the height of the Cold War our deterrence posture would go up and that is a good thing in these times of crisis.

Some perspective on what we have had in this regard seems useful.

During my time in office under President Reagan, we, DOD and Services, had a very close working relationship with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The late Gen. Les Bray, USAF, is considered the creator of FEMA originating from his stewardship of President Ford’s Office of Preparedness.

After his retirement from the U.S. Air Force in 1973, he went on to serve as the Director of the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Preparedness. This office was elevated in rank and renamed the Federal Preparedness Agency, and was one of three agencies that together became the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Gen. Bray, one of the smartest individuals I ever served with, said something that should never be forgotten or ignored: “The one thing that can destroy America as a unified entity is a nuclear strike.”

Our history has proven our national resilience against a vicious civil war, the major economic shock of a nationwide and global depression, and a victorious military campaign against two fanatical formidable enemies, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Thankfully, the World War II generation understood the horror of evil leaders wishing to destroy us on the battlefield and high seas, so they were very serious in understanding and applying the logic of nuclear deterrence.

Our offensive nuclear weapon strategic firepower to this day is a tribute to the professionalism of the Navy submarine community and USAF strategic missile force and their aircraft always ready to retaliate with enough firepower to destroy any enemy threatening the use of nuclear weapons against us.

Hand in hand with the deterrence factor of our survivable strategic retaliation forces were in those days, an emphasis on two additional key components of emergency preparedness.

First and essential is our continuity of government (COG) planning and execution. COG planning addresses how our national command authority survives from the president, as commander-in-chief, and then following the constitutional line of succession of U.S. senior civilian leadership, from vice president, to Speaker of the House, President Pro Tem of Senate, and cabinet secretaries to manage our strategic response forces. 

FEMA beyond national COG has published a very solid and insightful document, the "Guide to Continuity of Government, For State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Governments.” 

Such a document attempts to transcend partisan party political machinations and sends a powerful deterrence signal to our enemies  that with such a document the U.S. has given thought to our national unified survival.

The other critical signal of resolute deterrence is insuring the safety and survivability of all American civilians.  It was often said at the height of the Cold War, national leaders must “think about the unthinkable” in being prepared for a possible strategic nuclear strike against U.S. territory. 

Now that Putin has returned to the old Cold War 'we will kill you' rhetoric, it seems the right time is now to begin to think about civil defense.


Image: Logo, via Wikipedia // public domain


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