April 19 2022 — On April 14, 2022, CIA Director William Burns gave his first public speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His remarks highlighted “the role of an intelligence agency in a democracy, at a moment of profound change on the international landscape.” Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
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Sam Nunn served as a United States Senator from Georgia for 24 years (1972-1996). Nunn is co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to reduce the risk of use and prevent the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
My question is related to the risk assessment. President Biden has a tremendous responsibility to both healthy trade, but also to avoid world war three. That was a huge, huge responsibility to both help Ukraine, but also to avoid World War III, and that’s a huge responsibility that many do not fully grasp. In terms of risk assessment, I’m sure a lot of that’s going on now, but Russia has announced a lot of different type of policies, or at least some of that conversation indicates that on the use of nuclear weapons, particularly small or tactical nuclear weapons, we’ve heard the policy escalate to tactical nuclear weapons to deescalate a conflict. We’ve also heard the policy of escalate to victory, and we’ve heard most recently, a little bit more encouraging, that nuclear weapons would be used by Russia only to defend the existential threat to Russia itself. Would you like to just comment on that kind of risk assessment and what the agency is thinking?
Sure. I’d be glad to. First, I’ll say that no one has contributed more than you have, Sam, to people’s understanding of the threats that are posed in this nuclear age, and in particularly, some of the threats posed by, you know, movement towards low-yield nuclear weapons and a greater reliance on tactical nuclear weapons. So you know, it’s an honor to get that question from you.
Second, what I would say is that, you know, we’re obviously very concerned, I know that President Biden is deeply concerned, about avoiding a third World War, about avoiding a threshold in which nuclear conflict becomes possible. You’re right, that Russian military doctrine holds, that you could escalate to deescalate, in other words, that faced with an overwhelming conventional military threat that you could resort to a first use of tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons.
So in that circumstance, what some Russian leaders have talked about is a circumstance in which, you know, NATO would intervene militarily on the ground in Ukraine in the course of this conflict, and that’s not something, as President Biden has made very clear that’s in the cards.
But you know, given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons. We don’t, while we’ve seen some rhetorical posturing on the part of the Kremlin, about moving to higher nuclear alert levels, so far we haven’t seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce that concern. We watch for that very intently. It’s one of our most important responsibilities at CIA.
CIA Director William Burns Speaks at Georgia Tech
“The Role of Intelligence at a Transformational Moment” as delivered
CIA Director William Burns Georgia Tech – April 14, 2022 — CIA Website
CIA Director William Burns : “The Role of Intelligence at a Transformational Moment” [Georgia Tech – April 14, 2022]