Tac Nuke Numbers Confirmed?

PDUSPD Jim Miller appears to confirm FAS/NRDC estimates for NATO and Russia tactical nuclear weapons.

By Hans M. Kristensen

A Wikileaks document briefly posted by The Guardian Monday appears to give an official number for the U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe: 180.

The number appears in a leaked cable written by U.S. NATO Ambassador Ivo Dalder in September 2009, describing an earlier Nuclear Posture Review briefing U.S. Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller gave to NATO in July 2009.

Miller’s number is smack in the middle of the estimate Stan Norris and I have developed. I recently published a snapshot here (previous NATO posts are here), and a more detailed overview will appear in the January Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Miller also stated that Russia had 3,000-5,000 plus tactical nuclear weapons. That also fits our estimate of approximately 5,300 weapons, previously published here and here.

Whether Miller was providing certified U.S. intelligence numbers or simply referenced good-enough nonofficial public estimates is less clear. But his use of a specific number (180) for Europe rather than a range suggests that it might an official number.

It’s Up, It’s Down

The cable first appeared in a Guardian story that was posted on the news paper’s web site Monday with the cable. The posting was a mistake and the story was quickly taken down (the editors decided that the initial story didn’t contain significant news; it may get back up), but not before bloggers had picked it up. The first reposting of the document appeared on Hedgehogs.

I’ve since tried to find the cable on the Wikileaks web site, but it doesn’t seem to be there. If anyone knows the original link, please let me know.


I’ll publish on U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons later in 2011, but the importance of the number 180 (if correct) is that it confirms that the United States during the past decade has been unilaterally reducing the deployment in Europe without demanding reductions in Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Miller correctly points to “the difficulty of bringing Russia to the bargaining table with 180 NATO sub-strategic warheads on offer against the estimated 3-5 thousand Russian warheads in that category.”

As I recently pointed out, there is important progress in NATO’s new Strategic Concept, but some language is unfortunate because it appears to reinstitute Russian as an adversary by demanding that any addition reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe must take into consideration Russia’s larger inventory of tactical nuclear weapons.

Some Baltic NATO countries have called for new contingency planning against Russia, but Ambassador Dalder pointed to the dilemma this creates for NATO’s long-held position that Russia is not an enemy.

I couldn’t agree more. NATO and the United States should certainly try to convince Russia to reduce its tactical nuclear weapons, but the previous unilateral U.S. reductions in Europe demonstrate that NATO can and should decide the future of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe independent of the number of Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

2 thoughts on “Tac Nuke Numbers Confirmed?

  1. [Edited] The cable that appears on Hedgehogs is not included in any known collection of cables that Wikileaks has released on its own website as of today. In addition, the cable in question is too new to have been released through officially sanctioned channels such as the publication Foreign Relations of the United States. It could have ended up on The Guardian’s website in any number of ways. Two possible scenarios are:

    1) Before releasing anything, Wikileaks sent all cables to several newspapers, including The Guardian. The cable in question could be among those Wikileaks decided not to publish for editorial reasons, yet The Guardian didn’t realize this and published it temporarily by mistake (A description of the publishing history of the cables can be found here).

    2) It could possibly be a fake document, a document with the appearance of a genuine cable that was written by another entity to take advantage of the media coverage surrounding Wikileaks’ document dump. There have already been stories falsely attributed to the Wikileaks cables on the topic of the political and military tension between India and Pakistan. These stories could have been based on forged cables, and this could be one as well. I cannot confirm the existence of such fake cables though because I have not seen one.

  2. No power should permanently store nuclear weapons on foreign soil. Period. And it’s not really important how many nuclear warheads the U.S. stores in Europe. A couple hundred more are just a few flight hours away.

    That said, the U.S. should expand the availability of dual-use weapon systems. Build that nuclear version of ATACMS, revisit the 155mm option, do a nuclear Mk.48 torpedo, and plan for a nuclear warhead for that new high-speed anti-ship missile. Two families, on optimized for traditional blast, the other for EMP.

    Reply: And the military requirement for returning to the battlefield nuclear weapons of the 1950s is what? HK

    Response by Distiller: Because they give options. And with predictable shrinking force levels they might be needed. They give small deployed forces a mighty punch (you really think China would be impressed by a couple dozen of 1000 lb JDAMs?). And simply because they exist!

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