I sympathize with the people of Ukraine. I hope they survive and defeat the aggressors from Russia. But great care is needed to avoid widening the war.
My concern has to do with nuclear war. The challenges are two-fold.
The first has to do with Russian conquests of nuclear energy facilities in Ukraine.
When I was much younger I covered the Three Mile Island nuclear emergency in Pennsylvania for NBC News. I was on site for two weeks. Later, when I was consulting, I worked at the nuclear waste site at Hanford, in Washington State, where there was major pollution into rivers in that area. Nothing was as bad as Chernobyl in Ukraine. The lesson from all of these disasters is that radioactive pollution is not only frightening, but it may also be traumatic.
My second concern is even worse. For years I have been consulting about the potential impact from nuclear combat. In addition to my work as chairperson of the National Center for Critical Incident Analysis (which was founded at the National Defense University), I have been advising on defenses against bioterrorism as well as nuclear attack.
For a dozen years I taught military officers in a program in organizational sciences at George Washington University. The officers were in the program because a postgraduate degree was crucial to advancing their careers. The course I taught was in psychological aspects of conflict resolution. Many of my students ended up in the Middle East and some told me later that my emphasis on case studies and role-playing was very helpful in the field. We spent weeks dissecting the Cuban Missile Crisis and role-playing similar situations.
More than 30 years ago I did a similar nuclear exercise co-sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security in which journalists role-played as government officials and the government officials role-played as journalists. Incredibly, 100 percent ended up lying during their role-play. The justification: prevent chaos and save lives. The nuclear danger was so great — even in a made-up exercise — that it challenged ethical norms.
My takeaway from these experiences is that nuclear combat would be the mother of all disasters and the Biden Administration is wise to do whatever is necessary to avoid triggering a Russian nuclear attack. That is why the question of a no-fly-zone in Ukraine is problematic.
We need to remember that the First World War was triggered during a series of miscalculations and botched alliances. We should also recall that the END of World War I resulted in a treaty that had the unexpected result that enabled Hitler’s takeover of the German government and launch of the Second World War. Wars rarely end nicely.
I pray the combat in Ukraine will end soon and end without a wider conflict. What have Americans learned from the stalemate in Korea? The exit from Saigon? The withdrawal from Iraq? The exodus from Afghanistan?
We must avoid creating the conditions that could lead to more combat.