Talking Points

Why the forecast for nuclear war is clearing — a bit

Time for your weekly nuclear winter forecast: The likelihood of fallout has lessened somewhat, with chances of a full-scale nuclear war looking slim. While forecasting the end of the world is a tricky business (as witnessed by countless millenarian groups down through the ages), there's reason to believe Russia and the Western world are a little bit farther from Armageddon than they were a month ago.

In early March, Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to take control of all Ukraine wasn't looking good, but the Kremlin wasn't willing to declare defeat. The world feared a frustrated Russia might decide to turn from its vaunted and vanquished heavily armored assaults to the shortcut of strategic nuclear weapons. Could a single "surgical" nuclear strike lead to a strategic global thermal nuclear war? We don't know, and it's probably better not to find out.

But as Russia's full-out assault on Kyiv and other cities in the center and west of Ukraine stalled, then retreated, there have been no signs Russia is planning to bring in strategic nukes. Instead, Russia is now looking toward the east of Ukraine, where it already controls some territory and is thought to have a miliary advantage in open terrain friendly to tanksSmaller ambitions and better battlefield conditions point to a lesser chance of bringing out the nukes.

Meanwhile, in the West, two things are happening. One is the dying cry in the media and by experts for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone in Ukraine. There's no doubt the Ukrainians still want one, but for now, they've refocused on asking for weapons they can use themselves. And while there's talk that weapons rolling across the border will become ever more substantial, that's not the same thing as having NATO jets patrolling Ukrainian skies, looking for Russian targets.

The second development the NATO side is the reaction to Russian atrocities carried out on civilians in towns like Bucha. Despite press attention and perhaps the triggering of a few more sanctions, the West has shown it won't go to war over war crimes, or even "genocide." There will be many more such atrocities if Russia's past is any prologue, but the decision has clearly been made as to the Western response.

None of this is particularly cheering, and, as with any forecast, it's just a best guess based on the information available. But for now, chances of a world-ending war have declined. Everyone take a deep breath and let it out slowly.