America hasn’t learned the grim truth of asymmetric warfare

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Assessment: The West’s nuclear knife is sheathed, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is brandishing his own in a menacing manner. As with Iran and the Palestinians, such disdain for human life gives fanatics the upper hand.

In an interview about the war against Ukraine, the former Soviet dissident turned Israeli public figure, Natan Sharansky, made a key observation.

Commenting in Tablet that both Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, were far from the strongest in the world, Sharansky shared something he had learned from his time in a Soviet prison.

The ringleader in the cell, he said, wasn’t the one who was physically strongest but the one ready to use his knife. “Everybody has a knife, but not everybody is prepared to use it,” he said. “Putin believes that he is willing to use his knife and the West isn’t—that the West can only talk even if it is physically stronger.”

“I will execute great vengeance on them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I lay My vengeance upon them.” Ez. 25:17 

A residential building damaged by an Russian aircraft in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Credit: Drop of Light/Shutterstock.

Of course, most people assumed that Putin would never use his knife. They thought he would never invade Ukraine and embark on a horrific campaign against its civilian population. Yet that’s exactly what he has done.

In a similar vein, no one apparently believed that Putin would ever deploy nuclear weapons. Yet with the Russian dictator issuing not-so-veiled threats about nuclear war, Britain and America are refusing to yield to the pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to fly bombing raids against the invading Russian forces for fear that Putin may do just that.

At a stroke, therefore, a key tenet of Western defense policy has been destroyed. For decades, Western leaders have told themselves that the principle of “mutually assured destruction”—under which any nuclear first strike would provoke a devastating nuclear counter-strike—is so obviously suicidal that no leader in his right mind would ever use nuclear weapons.

Yet what Putin is demonstrating is that this doctrine may not apply to him.

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