I have disliked the phrase “nuclear blackmail” since I first saw it. What it usually describes is not blackmail. Last night I figured it out.
It’s a nuclear protection racket. The phrase is harder to shorten, so it probably won’t be picked up by the media, but I would like to see analysts recognize the difference.
Blackmail is the demand for something of value to prevent information from becoming public. Protection is the demand for something of value to prevent damage. Further, the information in blackmail is something that the person being threatened does not want to come out. This is a significant difference. In blackmail, the victim’s actions or attitudes are part of the dynamic. Protection is a bullying demand without cause.
The popular expression of protection in this case would be “Nice world you got there. Too bad if something happened to it.” And, in Putin’s case, the demand is not clear, so he’s likely to keep upping it.
Update: I see that people are getting tied up in words. My point is that perhaps we have been thinking about what Putin is doing in a way that distorts our strategy.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner