New Report: US and Russian Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

A new report describes U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons

By Hans M. Kristensen

A new report estimates that Russia and the United States combined have a total of roughly 2,800 nuclear warheads assigned to their non-strategic nuclear forces. Several thousands more have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

The report comes shortly before the NATO Summit in Chicago on 20-21 May, where the alliance is expected to approve the conclusions of a year-long Deterrence and Defense Posture Review that will, among other things, determine the “appropriate mix” of nuclear and non-nuclear forces in Europe. It marks the 20-year anniversary of the Presidential Unilateral Initiatives in the early 1990s that resulted in sweeping reductions of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Twenty years later, the new report Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons estimates that U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear forces are deployed at nearly 100 bases across Russia, Europe and the United States. The nuclear warheads assigned to these forces are in central storage, except nearly 200 bombs that the U.S. Air Force forward-deploys in almost 90 underground vaults inside aircraft shelters at six bases in five European countries.

The report concludes that excessive and outdated secrecy about non-strategic nuclear weapons inventories, characteristics, locations, missions and dismantlements have created unnecessary and counterproductive uncertainty, suspicion and worst-case assumptions that undermine relations between Russia and NATO.

Russia and the United States and NATO can and should increase transparency of their non-strategic nuclear forces by disclosing overall numbers, storage locations, delivery vehicles, and how much of their total inventories have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

The report concludes that unilateral reductions have been, by far, the most effective means to reducing the number and role of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Yet now the two sides appear to be holding on to the remaining weapons to have something to bargain with in a future treaty to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons.

NATO has decided that any further reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe must take into account the larger Russian arsenal, and Russia has announced that it will not discuss reductions in its non-strategic nuclear forces unless the U.S. withdraws its non-strategic nuclear bombs from Europe. Combined, these positions appear to obstruct reductions rather facilitate reductions. Russian reductions should be a goal, not a precondition, for further NATO reductions.

Download the full report here: /_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf

Slides from briefing at U.S. Senate are here: /programs/ssp/nukes/publications1/Brief2012_TacNukes.pdf

See also our Nuclear Notebooks on the total nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States.

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 “New Report: US and Russian Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

  1. Well, nothing surprising in this issue as far as ‘m concerned.
    Non-strategic nuclear forces did have an increasing role to play in NATO-Russia relations since the beginning of START protocols. It appears to be more and more the main bargaining chip of both sides.
    Russia not withdrawing/reducing its arsenal of non-strategic weapons as a precondition to similar efforts coming from NATO in Europe rather than as a goal, appears to me a logical response.

  2. The Russian setup, having all kind of delivery systems nuclear-capable, is considerably more robust than the U.S. setup. Especially the lack of nuclear warheads for tactical use by the Navy is a mistake.

    Don’t agree with your comments on openness. Part of the deterrence game is to let the other side guess where the stuff is. And I also disagree that they have no mission. Their mission is to keep the option of a flexible response, to keep potential enemies from playing salami tactics and sub-strategic-threshold aggression games. And don’t forget: As the final line in the sand a small tactical nuclear warhead exploded at high(er) altitude could be quite useful. Plus the use of tactical nuclear weapons at sea is a totally different chapter, and I guess it should be seen seperatly from the question of their use in land warfare.

    Russia’s reasoning, that the U.S. should withdraw it’s tactical warheads from foreign soil is actually reasonable and – let’s be honest – symbolic only, since it would take only hours and those warheads are ready for use at any point of the globe. But it would be a gesture. That the U.S. isn’t willing to go even that little step, while at the same time isn’t willing to accomodate Russian misgivings about strategic missile defence is a message in itself. And no-one inside the beltway should be amazed that Russia focuses on Yars and Borei/Bulavas as a response. And I actually don’t see any uncertainty about Russia’s internal position on the issue, or the need to re-evaluate. They keep their options open in case of war and see tactical nuclear weapons as a natural extension of their conventional capabilities. (Why do I have to end up defending Russia??)

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