Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin briefs the press after a meeting with members of a Ukraine Security Consultative Group at the U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, on Tuesday. (Photo by Andre Pain/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Russian rhetoric about the Ukraine war spiraling into a nuclear conflict is “very dangerous and unhelpful,” Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday, adding that the U.S. will not engage in it and will do everything in its power to make sure the situation “doesn’t spin out of control.”
“Nobody wants to see a nuclear war happen,” Austin told reporters after hosting a multilateral meeting in Germany on arming Ukraine. “It’s a war that – you know, where all sides lose.”
“And so rattling of sabers and, you know, dangerous rhetoric is clearly unhelpful and something that we won’t engage in.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that the risk of nuclear war is “very significant,” adding that “the danger is serious, real” and “cannot be underestimated.”
Lavrov’s remarks in a television interview were couched as a warning rather than a threat – he said Russia’s principled starting point was that nuclear war is “inadmissible.”
But they follow earlier actions and comments by President Vladimir Putin, including the publicized placing of nuclear forces “on the highest alert,” the testing of a new nuclear missile, and a thinly-veiled threat upon launching the invasion of Ukraine that anyone threatening Russia – “one of the most powerful nuclear states” – will invite “consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”
Citing Lavrov’s words, a reporter asked Austin, “Are you not afraid that the conflict will somehow spin out of control and we’ll have this nuclear confrontation?”
“Well, we certainly will do everything within our power and within – and Ukraine, Ukraine will have the same approach, do everything within their power – to make sure it doesn’t spin out of control,” Austin replied, adding that the international community was “focused on that as well.”
“Any bluster about the use of nuclear – possible of use of nuclear weapons is very dangerous and unhelpful,” he repeated.
“Nobody wants to see a nuclear war. Nobody can win them. And as we do things and as we, you know, take actions, we’re always mindful of making sure that we have the right balance and that we’re taking the right approach.”
“So, there’s always, you know, a possibility that a number of things can happen,” Austin concluded. “But, but you know, again, I think it’s unhelpful and dangerous for – to rattle sabers and speculate about the use of nuclear weapons.”
The Russian military displays Yars/Topol-MR intercontinental ballistic missile systems at a 2015 Victory Day parade in Moscow. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
A few days after the invasion of Ukraine began, Austin in early March ordered the postponement of a long-planned test of a Minuteman III ICBM.
At the time, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the move “a wise and prudent decision by the secretary to send a strong clear unambiguous message to Mr. Putin how seriously we take our nuclear responsibilities, at a particularly tense time.”
“We recognize at this moment of tension how critical it is that both the United States and Russia bear in mind the risk of miscalculation, and take steps to reduce those risks,” Kirby said, adding that delaying the test would not affect the U.S. nuclear deterrence.
Last week Russia tested a newly-developed new intercontinental ballistic missile which Putin claimed is “capable of overcoming all modern means of anti-missile defense.”
He called the reportedly successful test of the Sarmat ICBM “a wakeup call for those who are trying to threaten our country in the frenzy of rabid, aggressive rhetoric.”
Asked at a press briefing Tuesday to what extent the administration was taking Russia’s “recent nuclear threat” seriously, White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied, “Well, I think you heard some of our national security officials make clear there’s no winning a nuclear war.”
“And obviously, our objective continues to be to call on reducing the rhetoric, on taking the rhetoric on that front down,” she said. “And I think there have been some officials who have abided by that.”
While not specifically mentioning a nuclear war, President Biden and Psaki have in recent months periodically cited the risk of sparking “World War III” when responding to questions about the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion – whether relating a no-fly zone over Ukraine, providing Ukraine with fighter jets, or sending U.S. personnel into Ukraine with offensive equipment.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman late last week disputed the notion that the U.S. and allies have not deployed troops in Ukraine because Russia is a nuclear-armed power. Rather, she said the decision not to do so was based on the belief that helping the Ukrainians to defend themselves “is most useful.”
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