Russia has escalated its threats of nuclear conflict in the case of NATO military intervention in Ukraine, with Putin warning of a “lightning-fast” response from Moscow. NATO is committed to being a “nuclear alliance” based on the principle of deterrence, and requires all member states to subscribe to its nuclear component.
But it is clear that, “should the fundamental security of any NATO ally be threatened, NATO has the capabilities and the resolve to impose costs on the adversary that would be unacceptable and far outweigh the benefits that any adversary could hope to achieve”.
Yet John Erath, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told Express.co.uk NATO countries can only fend off an “extremely limited attack”.
If Russia were to launch a ballistic missile, “the US and NATO maintain missile defences that are designed around stopping an extremely limited attack”, Mr Erath explained.
Mr Erath, who previously sat on the US National Security Council, said this would include an accidental missile launch.
But these defensive measures would not stand toe-to-toe with any nuclear threat Vladimir Putin could unleash, he added.
Mr Erath said: “These defences would have no possibility of stopping the kind of massive attack Russia is capable of launching.”
The UK, a NATO member, lacks nuclear defensive capabilities, an international relations expert previously told Express.co.uk.
Professor Andrew Futter of the University of Leicester explained that active nuclear defence has long disappeared from the UK’s agenda.
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“Since the early Cold War, the UK has effectively relied on deterrence because defence (either active missile defences or passive civil defence) are hugely expensive and in some cases unworkable.
“UK policy rests on the threat of nuclear retaliation after a strike.
“No adversary would risk attacking the UK with nukes because they would be attacked with nukes in response.”
The UK does not have the US’s ‘Doomsday’ plane or Russia’s ‘dead hand’ launch system, he added.
The ‘Doomsday’ aircraft is a modified Boeing-747, adapted to become an airborne military command centre in the event of a nuclear attack.
The ‘dead-hand’ mechanism, also known as Perimeter, means an automatic retaliatory strike could be launched by Russian command, even if all its top chiefs were killed.
This system “is based on signals transmitted from a series of rockets that could be fired if the Russian leadership was killed,” Professor Futter explained.
He ominously added: “As far as I am aware, the UK doesn’t have this capability – ‘nuclear war’ would be conducted from a bunker under Whitehall and from the submarine on patrol.”
Hidden underneath the corridors of Whitehall is Pindar, the UK’s Crisis Command Centre for a nuclear strike.
But Professor Futter described how, in the event of a nuclear attack, the UK would be “destroyed” as a “functioning state”.
He added: “There is very little defence against a large nuclear explosion on UK soil, let alone several nuclear explosions.”