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Is Putin Irrational? What Nuclear Strategic Theory Says About Deterrence

Edward Geist


3 min


8 March 2022

Original Content 

Vladimir Putin's astonishing lapse of judgment in invading Ukraine has fueled speculation that the Russian president may have taken leave of his senses. Former Secretary of Defense and CIA director Robert Gates commented in a recent CNN interview that Putin has “gone off the rails.” Sen. Marco Rubio, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted after the invasion began that, “I wish I could share more, but for now I can say it's pretty obvious to many that something is off with Putin. He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different & significant. It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have 5 years ago.”

If these assessments are accurate, then the world faces a highly disturbing situation: a mad king in possession of the world's largest nuclear arsenal, as he reminded the world when announcing an alert of his strategic deterrent forces February 27. If Putin is not a rational adversary, then the policies that would deter a more-reasonable man may fail or even backfire.

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