Did Joe Biden mean to threaten Russia with a chemical weapons attack? That seemed to be what he implied at yesterday’s Nato summit when he said Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine ‘would trigger a response in kind’ from the US. To respond ‘in kind’ means to respond in the same way – i.e. by firing chemical weapons back at Russia. Given that the US committed to destroying its remaining stockpiles of those munitions when it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, it would seem very unlikely that this is what Biden meant. Or indeed, that he would have any chemical weapons to unleash in the first place.
There is something to be said for ambiguity. If Donald Trump were still president, Vladimir Putin would (along with the rest of us) have found it very hard to predict his reaction to the invasion of Ukraine. The one way to keep Putin in check, it might be argued, is to have someone even more belligerent on the other side.
It’s uncertain if Putin will have taken Biden’s threat seriously. The Russian leader will surely have in mind the words of Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama, when Assad was gearing up to use chemical weapons in 2012:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
But I thought we didn’t have chemical weapons.
The old fool.