Monday, April 10, 2017

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons

Recent debates about U.S. nuclear weapons have questioned what role weapons with shorter
ranges and lower yields can play in addressing emerging threats in Europe and Asia. These
weapons, often referred to as nonstrategic nuclear weapons, have not been limited by past U.S.-
Russian arms control agreements, although some analysts argue such limits would be of value,
particularly in addressing Russia's greater numbers of these types of weapons. Others have
argued that the United States should expand its deployments of these weapons, in both Europe
and Asia, to address new risks of war conducted under a nuclear shadow. Both the Trump
Administration and Congress may address these questions during a new review of the U.S.
nuclear posture.
During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union both deployed nonstrategic nuclear
weapons for use in the field during a conflict. While there are several ways to distinguish between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons, most analysts consider nonstrategic weapons to be
shorter-range delivery systems with lower yield warheads that might be used to attack troops or
facilities on the battlefield. They have included nuclear mines; artillery; short-, medium-, and
long-range ballistic missiles; cruise missiles; and gravity bombs. In contrast with the longer-range 'strategic' nuclear weapons, these weapons had a lower profile in policy debates and arms
control negotiations, possibly because they did not pose a direct threat to the continental United
States. At the end of the 1980s, each nation still had thousands of these weapons deployed with
their troops in the field, aboard naval vessels, and on aircraft.
In 1991, the United States and Soviet Union both withdrew from deployment most and eliminated
from their arsenals many of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The United States now has
approximately 760 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, with around 200 deployed with aircraft in
Europe and the remaining stored in the United States. Estimates vary, but experts believe Russia
still has between 1,000 and 6,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its arsenal. The
Bush Administration quietly redeployed and removed some of the nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. Russia, however seems to have increased its reliance on nuclear weapons in its national
security concept. Some analysts argue that Russia has backed away from its commitments from
1991 and may develop and deploy new types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Analysts have identified a number of issues with the continued deployment of U.S. and Russian
nonstrategic nuclear weapons. These include questions about the safety and security of Russia's
weapons and the possibility that some might be lost, stolen, or sold to another nation or group;
questions about the role of these weapons in U.S. and Russian security policy; questions about the
role that these weapons play in NATO policy and whether there is a continuing need for the
United States to deploy them at bases overseas; questions about the implications of the disparity
in numbers between U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons; and questions about the relationship between nonstrategic nuclear weapons and U.S. nonproliferation policy.
Some argue that these weapons do not create any problems and the United States should not alter
its policy. Others argue that NATO should consider expanding its deployments in response to
Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Some believe the United States should reduce its reliance on
these weapons and encourage Russia to do the same. Many have suggested that the United States and Russia expand efforts to cooperate on ensuring the safe and secure storage and elimination of these weapons; others have suggested that they negotiate an arms control treaty that would limit these weapons and allow for increased transparency in monitoring their deployment and elimination.

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