Former national security adviser John Bolton thinks President Biden "overstated the gravity of the situation we're in right now" when he suggested that the "prospect of Armageddon" is the highest it's been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bolton offered his observation in an interview Friday with CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge.
Mr. Bidenat a private fundraiser in New York Thursday night, referring to the prospect of Russian President Vladimir Putin's use of tactical nuclear weapons in his war against Ukraine. Russia has been suffering significant setbacks in its war against Ukraine. In a new gambit, Putin this week formalized his illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, warning he could resort to the use of nuclear weapons to defend them.
"We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis," Mr. Biden said at the private event Thursday evening, adding that Putin is "not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming."
"I don't think there's any such thing as an ability to easily [use] a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon," the president continued.
Bolton said nuclear threats must be taken seriously, but he doesn't think the world is in quite the situation the president described.
"I think any time we contemplate the potential use of nuclear weapons, we've got to take it seriously," Bolton told CBS News. "But I also think we've got to be very clear-eyed about it. And I think the president's comment overstated the gravity of the situation we're in right now. I was particularly disturbed when he said, 'you know, I can't imagine the use of a tactical nuclear weapon that doesn't lead to Armageddon.' And it's that chain of causality from one demonstration use of a tactical nuclear weapon that Vladimir Putin is currently threatening all the way up to an exchange of nuclear salvos between Russia and the United States."
"It is not inevitable," he continued. "But Putin would like us to think it's inevitable. He'd like to see people nervous. He's trying to deter us. He has done this several times already after his invasion of Ukraine. He's been bluffing each time. There is a risk here of the use of nuclear weapons. I don't think we're in the circumstances where it's going to happen, although we watch it carefully. But it's very important for the West not to be deterred by Putin's use of this nuclear threat."
If Russia did use a tactical nuclear weapon, the U.S. would need to have a "very, very substantial response," Bolton said. And if Putin were to authorize the use of a nuclear weapon, Bolton said "he's signing his own suicide note."
"A number of things have been suggested — strikes against Russian forces in various places," Bolton said. "I don't have any problem with that. They're the ones who invaded Ukraine. But I think it's more important to levy responsibility on the authorities in Russia who would have approved of the use of a nuclear weapon, and I mean very specifically Vladimir Putin. I think we should make it clear publicly so that not just Putin, but all the top Russian leadership, all the citizens of Russia know that if Putin authorizes the use of a nuclear weapon, he's signing his own suicide note."
Bolton elaborated on what those consequences could look like.
"Well, you know, he's the the center of command and control of the Russian military," Bolton said. "National Command authority is what we call it. He's a legitimate military target. And I think while [there are] plenty of other things we can do as well, that he needs to know that he's on our target list at that point."
The administration has not been specific about what its response would be if Putin deployed a nuclear weapon. President Biden has publicly warned Putin not to use them, telling CBS News'that his message to Putin would be, "Don't. You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II." He declined to elaborate on what the consequences would be but said "the extent of what they do will determine what response would occur."
For months, U.S. officials have warned that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. But officials have also said, as recently as this week, that they've seen no change in Russia's nuclear posture..
"Russia's talk of using nuclear weapons is irresponsible," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One Friday. "And there's no way to use them without unintended consequences ... We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons."
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