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Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons

CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
Amy F. Woolf
Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy
December 19, 2012
Congressional Research Service
7-5700
www.crs.gov
RL32572
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
Congressional Research Service
Summary
The FY2013 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310, Section 1037) indicates that it is the sense of
Congress that “the United States should pursue negotiations with the Russian Federation aimed at
the reduction of Russian deployed and nondeployed nonstrategic nuclear forces.” The United
States and Russia have not included limits on these weapons in past arms control agreements.
Nevertheless, some analysts and Members of Congress have argued that disparities in the
numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons may become more important as the United States and
Russia reduce their numbers of deployed long-range, strategic nuclear weapons.
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 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. The 113th
Congress may review some of these proposals. This report will be updated as needed.
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Contents
Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 1
Background ...................................................................................................................................... 2
The Distinction Between Strategic and Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons ......................................... 5
Definition by Observable Capabilities ................................................................................ 6
Definition by Exclusion ...................................................................................................... 7
U.S. and Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons .............................................................................. 8
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War ....................................................... 8
Strategy and Doctrine .......................................................................................................... 8
Force Structure .................................................................................................................... 8
Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War .................................................... 9
Strategy and Doctrine .......................................................................................................... 9
Force Structure .................................................................................................................. 10
The 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives ............................................................................... 10
U.S. Initiative .................................................................................................................... 10
Soviet and Russian Initiatives ........................................................................................... 11
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War ......................................................... 12
Strategy and Doctrine ........................................................................................................ 12
Force Structure .................................................................................................................. 16
Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War .................................................... 18
Strategy and Doctrine ........................................................................................................ 18
Force Structure .................................................................................................................. 21
Changing the Focus of the Debate ........................................................................................... 22
Issues for Congress ........................................................................................................................ 23
Safety and Security of Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons ............................................. 24
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s National Security Policy ................. 24
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National Security Policy ....................... 25
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in NATO Policy and Alliance Strategy ............. 26
The Relationship Between Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons and U.S. Nonproliferation
Policy .................................................................................................................................... 29
Arms Control Options ............................................................................................................. 30
Increase Transparency ....................................................................................................... 32
Expand Threat Reduction Assistance ................................................................................ 32
Negotiate a Formal Treaty ................................................................................................. 32
Contacts
Author Contact Information........................................................................................................... 36
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Introduction
During the Senate debate on the new U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New
START) in 2010, many Members noted that this treaty did not impose any limits on nonstrategic,
or shorter-range, nuclear weapons. Many also noted that Russia possessed a far greater number of
these shorter-range systems than did the United States. Some expressed particular concerns about
the threat that Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons might pose to U.S. allies in Europe; others
argued that these weapons might be vulnerable to theft or sale to nations or groups seeking their
own nuclear weapons. In response to these concerns, the Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification
on New START, stated that the United States should seek to initiate within one year, “negotiations
with the Russian Federation on an agreement to address the disparity between the non-strategic
(tactical) nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and to
secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.”1
Although the United States did raise the issue of negotiations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons
with Russia within the year after New START entered into force, the two nations have not yet
moved forward with efforts to negotiate limits on these weapons. Russia has expressed little
interest in such a negotiation, and has stated that it will not even begin the process until the
United States removes its nonstrategic nuclear weapons from bases in Europe. According to U.S.
officials, the United States is still “doing its homework” in trying to identify and evaluate possible
transparency measures and limits that might apply to these weapons.
The United States and Russia have not included limits on nonstrategic nuclear weapons in past
arms control agreements. Nevertheless, Congress remains interested in reaching such limits in a
future agreement. In the FY2013 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310, Section 1037), Congress
again indicated that it believes “the United States should pursue negotiations with the Russian
Federation aimed at the reduction of Russian deployed and nondeployed nonstrategic nuclear
forces.” Members in the 113th Congress may continue to press the Administration to seek
solutions to the potential risks presented by nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
This report provides basic information about U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It
begins with a brief discussion of how these weapons have appeared in public debates in the past
few decades, then summarizes the differences between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear
weapons. It then provides some historical background, describing the numbers and types of
nonstrategic nuclear weapons deployed by both nations during the Cold War and in the past
decade; the policies that guided the deployment and prospective use of these weapons; and the
measures that the two sides have taken to reduce and contain their forces. The report reviews the
issues that have been raised with regard to U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and
summarizes a number of policy options that might be explored by Congress, the United States,
Russia, and other nations to address these issues.
1 The full text of the Resolution of Ratification can be found on page S10982 of the Congressional Record from
December 22, 2010, http://www.congress.gov/cgi-lis/query/z?r111:S22DE0-0012.
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Background
During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were central to the U.S. strategy of deterring Soviet
aggression against the United States and U.S. allies. Towards this end, the United States deployed
a wide variety of systems that could carry nuclear warheads. These included nuclear mines;
artillery; short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles; cruise missiles; and gravity bombs.
The United States deployed these weapons with its troops in the field, aboard aircraft, on surface
ships, on submarines, and in fixed, land-based launchers. The United States articulated a complex
strategy, and developed detailed operational plans, that would guide the use of these weapons in
the event of a conflict with the Soviet Union and its allies.
During the Cold War, most public discussions about U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons—including
discussions about perceived imbalances between the two nations’ forces and discussions about the
possible use of arms control measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war and limit or reduce the
numbers of nuclear weapons—focused on long-range, or strategic, nuclear weapons. These
include long-range land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched
ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers that carry cruise missiles or gravity bombs. These
were the weapons that the United States and Soviet Union deployed so that they could threaten
destruction of central military, industrial, and leadership facilities in the other country—the
weapons of global nuclear war. But both nations also deployed thousands of nuclear weapons
outside their own territories with their troops in the field. These weapons usually had less
explosive power and were deployed with launchers that would deliver them across shorter ranges
than strategic nuclear weapons. They were intended for use by troops on the battlefield or within
the theater of battle to achieve more limited, or tactical, objectives.
These “nonstrategic” nuclear weapons did not completely escape public discussion or arms
control debates. Their profile rose in the early 1980s when U.S. plans to deploy new cruise
missiles and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe, as a part of NATO’s nuclear strategy,
ignited large public protests in many NATO nations. Their high profile returned later in the
decade when the United States and Soviet Union signed the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear
Forces (INF) Treaty and eliminated medium- and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.
Then, in 1991, President George Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev each announced
that they would withdraw from deployment most of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons and
eliminate many of them.
These 1991 announcements, coming after the abortive coup in Moscow in July 1991, but months
before the December 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, responded to growing concerns about the
safety and security of Soviet nuclear weapons at a time of growing political and economic
upheaval in that nation. It also allowed the United States to alter its forces in response to easing
tensions and the changing international security environment. Consequently, for many in the
general public, these initiatives appeared to resolve the problems associated with nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. As a result, although the United States and Russia included these weapons in
some of their arms control discussions, most of their arms control efforts during the rest of that
decade focused on strategic weapons, with efforts made to implement the 1991 Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (START) and negotiate deeper reductions in strategic nuclear weapons.
The lack of public attention did not, however, reflect a total absence of questions or concerns
about nonstrategic nuclear weapons. In 1997, President Clinton and Russia’s President Boris
Yeltsin signed a framework agreement that stated they would address measures related to
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nonstrategic nuclear weapons in a potential START III Treaty. Further, during the 1990s, outside
analysts, officials in the U.S. government, and many Members of Congress raised continuing
questions about the safety and security of Russia’s remaining nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Congress sought a more detailed accounting of Russia’s weapons in legislation passed in the late
1990s. Analysts also questioned the role that these weapons might play in Russia’s evolving
national security strategy, the rationale for their continued deployment in the U.S. nuclear arsenal,
and their relationship to U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy. The terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001, also reminded people of the catastrophic consequences that might ensue if terrorists
were to acquire and use nuclear weapons, with continuing attention focused on the potentially
insecure stock of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
The George W. Bush Administration did not adopt an explicit policy of reducing or eliminating
nonstrategic nuclear weapons. When it announced the results of its Nuclear Posture Review
(NPR) in early 2002, it did not outline any changes to the U.S. deployment of nonstrategic
nuclear weapons at bases in Europe; it stated that NATO would address the future of those
weapons. Although there was little public discussion of this issue during the Bush Administration,
reports indicate that the United States did redeploy and withdraw some of its nonstrategic nuclear
weapons from bases in Greece, Germany, and the United Kingdom.2 It made these changes
quietly and unilaterally, in response to U.S. and NATO security requirements, without requesting
or requiring reciprocity from Russia.
The Bush Administration also did not discuss these weapons with Russia during arms control
negotiations in 2002. Instead, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (Moscow Treaty), signed
in June 2002, limited only the number of operationally deployed warheads on strategic nuclear
weapons. When asked about the absence of these weapons in the Moscow Treaty, then Secretary
of State Powell noted that the treaty was not intended to address these weapons, although the
parties could address questions about the safety and security of these weapons during less formal
discussions.3 These discussions, however, never occurred.
Nevertheless, Congress remained concerned about the potential risks associated with Russia’s
continuing deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The FY2006 Defense Authorization Act
(P.L. 109-163) contained two provisions that called for further study on these weapons. Section
1212 mandated that the Secretary of Defense submit a report that would determine whether
increased transparency and further reductions in U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons
were in the U.S. national security interest; Section 3115 called on the Secretary of Energy to
submit a report on what steps the United States might take to bring about progress in improving
the accounting for and security of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons. In the 109th Congress,
H.R. 5017, a bill to ensure implementation of the 9/11 Commission Report recommendations,
included a provision (§334) that called on the Secretary of Defense to submit a report that
detailed U.S. efforts to encourage Russia to provide a detailed accounting of its force of
nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It also would have authorized $5 million for the United States to
assist Russia in completing an inventory of these weapons. The 109th Congress did not address
this bill or its components in any detail. In the 110th Congress, H.R. 1 sought to ensure the
2 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe, 2011,” Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, January 2011. http://bos.sagepub.com/content/67/1/64.full
3 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions: The Moscow
Treaty, Hearings, 107th Cong., Second sess., July and September 2002, S. Hrg. 107-622 (Washington: GPO, 2002), p.
12.
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implementation of the 9/11 Commission Report recommendations. However, in its final form
(P.L. 110-53), it did not include any references to Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Several events in the past few years have served to elevate the profile of nonstrategic nuclear
weapons in debates about the future of U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policy. For
example, in January 2007, four senior statesmen published an article in the Wall Street Journal
that highlighted the continuing threat posed by the existence, and proliferation, of nuclear
weapons.4 They called on leaders in nations with nuclear weapons to adopt the goal of seeking a
world free of nuclear weapons. After acknowledging that that this was a long-term enterprise,
they identified a number of urgent, near-term steps that these nations might take. They included
among these steps a call for nations to eliminate “short-range nuclear weapons designed to be
forward-deployed.” In a subsequent article published in January 2008, they elaborated on this
step, calling for “a dialogue, including within NATO and with Russia, on consolidating the
nuclear weapons designed for forward deployment to enhance their security, as a first step toward
careful accounting for them and their eventual elimination.” They noted, specifically, that “these
smaller and more portable nuclear weapons are, given their characteristics, inviting acquisition
targets for terrorist groups.”5
In addition, as a part of its renewed interest in the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national
security strategy, Congress established, in the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill (P.L. 110-181
§1062), a Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. The
Congressional Commission, which issued its report in April 2009, briefly addressed the role of
nonstrategic nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy and noted that these weapons can
help the United States assure its allies of the U.S. commitment to their security. It also noted
concerns about the imbalance in the numbers of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons
and mentioned that Russia had increased its reliance on these weapons to compensate for
weaknesses in its conventional forces.6
The 110th Congress also mandated (P.L. 110-181, §1070) that the next Administration conduct a
new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The Obama Administration completed this NPR in early
April 2010. This study identified a number of steps the United States would take to reduce the
roles and numbers of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. A few of these steps, including the
planned retirement of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles, affected U.S. nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. At the same time, though, the NPR recognized the role that U.S. nonstrategic
nuclear weapons play in assuring U.S. allies of the U.S. commitment to their security. It indicated
that the United States would “retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on
tactical fighter-bombers” and that the United States would seek to “expand consultations with
allies and partners to address how to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the U.S. extended
deterrent. No changes in U.S. extended deterrence capabilities will be made without close
consultations with our allies and partners.”7
4 George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall
Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15.
5 George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” Wall Street
Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13.
6 William J. Perry, Chairman and James R. Schlesinger, Vice Chairman, America’s Strategic Posture, The Final Report
of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, Washington, DC, April 2009, p. 12-13,
21. http://www.usip.org/files/America's_Strategic_Posture_Auth_Ed.pdf.
7 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, April 6, 2010, pp. 26-27, http://www.defense.gov/
npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf.
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Discussions about the presence of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons at bases in Europe and their
role in NATO’s strategy also increased in 2009 and 2010 during the drafting of NATO’s new
strategic concept.8 Officials in some NATO nations called for the removal of U.S. nonstrategic
weapons from bases on the continent, noting that they had no military significance for NATO’s
security. Others called for the retention of these weapons, arguing both that they played a political
role in NATO and that they helped balance Russia’s deployment of greater numbers of
nonstrategic nuclear weapons. When it was published, the Strategic Concept did not call for the
removal of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It stated that “deterrence, based on an appropriate
mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy.” It
also indicated that “the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be
contemplated are extremely remote,” but indicated that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO
will remain a nuclear alliance.” It then concluded that NATO would “maintain an appropriate mix
of nuclear and conventional forces.”9
At the same time, NATO recognized that the new Strategic Concept would not be the last word on
the role or presence of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in NATO. In the declaration released at the
conclusion of the November 2010 Lisbon Summit, the allies agreed that they would continue to
review NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the
Alliance. They commissioned a comprehensive Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR)
that would examine the range of capabilities required for defense and deterrence, including
nuclear weapons, missile defense, and other means of strategic deterrence and defense.10 The
DDPR was presented at the May 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. It did not, however,
recommend any changes in NATO’s nuclear posture. Instead, it noted that “nuclear weapons are a
core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence,” and that “the
Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and
defence posture.”11
The Distinction Between Strategic and Nonstrategic
Nuclear Weapons
The distinction between strategic and nonstrategic (also known as tactical) nuclear weapons
reflects the military definitions of, on the one hand, a strategic mission and, on the other hand, the
tactical use of nuclear weapons. According to the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military
Terms,12 a strategic mission is:
Directed against one or more of a selected series of enemy targets with the purpose of
progressive destruction and disintegration of the enemy’s warmaking capacity and will to
8 NATO released this document in November 2010.
9 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Active Engagement, Modern Defence, Strategic Concept For the
Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Lisbon, Portugal, November 29,
2010, pp. 4-5, http://www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf.
10 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Lisbon Summit Declaration, Lisbon, Portugal, November 20, 2010,
http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_68828.htm.
11 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, Press Release, Chicago, IL,
May 20, 2012, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_87597.htm?mode=pressrelease.
12 This dictionary, and these definitions can be found on the DOD website at http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/doddict/
index.html.
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make war. Targets include key manufacturing systems, sources of raw material, critical
material, stockpiles, power systems, transportation systems, communication facilities, and
other such target systems. As opposed to tactical operations, strategic operations are
designed to have a long-range rather than immediate effect on the enemy and its military
forces.
In contrast, the tactical use of nuclear weapons is defined as “the use of nuclear weapons by land,
sea, or air forces against opposing forces, supporting installations or facilities, in support of
operations that contribute to the accomplishment of a military mission of limited scope, or in
support of the military commander’s scheme of maneuver, usually limited to the area of military
operations.”
Definition by Observable Capabilities
During the Cold War, it was relatively easy to distinguish between strategic and nonstrategic
nuclear weapons because each type had different capabilities that were better suited to the
different missions.
Definition by Range of Delivery Vehicles
The long-range missiles and heavy bombers deployed on U.S. territory and missiles deployed in
ballistic missile submarines had the range and destructive power to attack and destroy military,
industrial, and leadership targets central to the Soviet Union’s ability to prosecute the war. At the
same time, with their large warheads and relatively limited accuracies (at least during the earlier
years of the Cold War), these weapons were not suited for attacks associated with tactical or
battlefield operations. Nonstrategic nuclear weapons, in contrast, were not suited for strategic
missions because they lacked the range to reach targets inside the Soviet Union (or, for Soviet
weapons, targets inside the United States). But, because they were often small enough to be
deployed with troops in the field or at forward bases, the United States and Soviet Union could
have used them to attack targets in the theater of the conflict, or on the battlefield itself, to support
more limited military missions.
Even during the Cold War, however, the United States and Russia deployed nuclear weapons that
defied the standard understanding of the difference between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear
weapons. For example, both nations considered weapons based on their own territories that could
deliver warheads to the territory of the other nation to be “strategic” because they had the range
needed to reach targets inside the other nation’s territory. But some early Soviet submarinelaunched
ballistic missiles had relatively short (i.e., 500 mile) ranges, and the submarines
patrolled close to U.S. shores to ensure that the weapons could reach their strategic targets.
Conversely, in the 1980s the United States considered sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs)
deployed on submarines or surface ships to be nonstrategic nuclear weapons. But, if these vessels
were deployed close to Soviet borders, these weapons could have destroyed many of the same
targets as U.S. strategic nuclear weapons. Similarly, U.S. intermediate-range missiles that were
deployed in Europe, which were considered nonstrategic by the United States, could reach
central, strategic targets in the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, some weapons that had the range to reach “strategic” targets on the territory of the
other nations could also deliver tactical nuclear weapons in support of battlefield or tactical
operations. Soviet bombers could be equipped with nuclear-armed anti-ship missiles; U.S.
bombers could also carry anti-ship weapons and nuclear mines. Hence, the range of the delivery
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vehicle does not always correlate with the types of targets or objectives associated with the
warhead carried on that system. This relationship between range and mission has become even
more clouded since the end of the Cold War because the United States and Russia have retired
many of the shorter- and medium-range delivery systems considered to be nonstrategic nuclear
weapons. Further, both nations could use their longer-range “strategic” systems to deliver
warheads to a full range of strategic and tactical targets, even if long-standing traditions and arms
control definitions weigh against this change.
Definition by Yield of Warheads
During the Cold War, the longer-range strategic delivery vehicles also tended to carry warheads
with greater yields, or destructive power, than nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Smaller warheads
were better suited to nonstrategic weapons because they sought to achieve more limited, discrete
objectives on the battlefield than did the larger, strategic nuclear weapons. But this distinction has
also dissolved in more modern systems. Many U.S. and Russian heavy bombers can carry
weapons of lower yields, and, as accuracies improved for bombs and missiles, warheads with
lower yields could achieve the same expected level of destruction that had required larger
warheads in early generations of strategic weapons systems.
Definition by Exclusion
The observable capabilities that allowed analysts to distinguish between strategic and
nonstrategic nuclear weapons during the Cold War have not always been precise, and may not
prove to be relevant or appropriate in the future. On the other hand, the “strategic” weapons
identified by these capabilities—ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers—are the only systems
covered by the limits in strategic offensive arms control agreements—the SALT agreements
signed in the 1970s, the START agreements signed in the 1990s, the Moscow Treaty signed in
2002, and the New START Treaty signed in 2010. Consequently, an “easy” dividing line is one
that would consider all weapons not covered by strategic arms control treaties as nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. This report takes this approach when reviewing the history of U.S. and
Soviet/Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and in some cases when discussing remaining
stocks of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
This definition will not, however, prove sufficient when discussing current and future issues
associated with these weapons. Since the early 1990s, the United States and Russia have
withdrawn from deployment most of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons and eliminated many of
the shorter- and medium-range launchers for these weapons (these changes are discussed in more
detail below). Nevertheless, both nations maintain roles for these weapons in their national
security strategies. Russia has enunciated a national security strategy that allows for the possible
use of nuclear weapons in regional contingencies and conflicts near the periphery of Russia. The
United States also maintains these capabilities in its nuclear arsenal and does not rule out the
possibility that it might need them to deter or defeat potential adversaries. The distinction,
therefore, between a strategic and a nonstrategic nuclear weapon may well reflect the nature of
the target, not the yield or delivery vehicle of the attacking warhead.
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U.S. and Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War
Throughout the Cold War, the United States deployed thousands of shorter-range nuclear
weapons with U.S. forces based in Europe, Japan, and South Korea and on ships around the
world. The United States maintained these deployments to extend deterrence and to defend its
allies in Europe and Asia. Not only did the presence of these weapons (and the presence of U.S.
forces, in general) increase the likelihood that the United States would come to the defense of its
allies if they were attacked, the weapons also could have been used on the battlefield to slow or
stop the advance of the adversaries’ conventional forces. The weapons in Asia also contributed to
U.S. efforts to defend its allies there from potential threats from China and North Korea.
Strategy and Doctrine
In most cases, these weapons were deployed to defend U.S. allies against aggression by the
Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, but it did not rule out their possible use in contingencies
with other adversaries. In Europe, these weapons were a part of NATO’s strategy of “flexible
response.” Under this strategy, NATO did not insist that it would respond to any type of attack
with nuclear weapons, but it maintained the capability to do so and to control escalation if nuclear
weapons were used. This approach was intended to convince the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact
that any conflict, even one that began with conventional weapons, could result in nuclear
retaliation.13 As the Cold War drew to a close, NATO acknowledged that it would no longer
maintain nuclear weapons to deter or defeat a conventional attack from the Soviet Union and
Warsaw Pact because “the threat of a simultaneous, full-scale attack on all of NATO’s European
fronts has effectively been removed.”14 But NATO documents indicated that these weapons
would still play an important political role in NATO’s strategy by ensuring “uncertainty in the
mind of any potential aggressor about the nature of the Allies’ response to military aggression.”15
Force Structure
Throughout the Cold War, the United States often altered the size and structure of its nonstrategic
nuclear forces in response to changing capabilities and changing threat assessments. These
weapons were deployed at U.S. bases in Asia, and at bases on the territories of several of the
NATO allies, contributing to NATO’s sense of shared responsibility for the weapons. The United
States began to reduce these forces in the late 1970s, with the numbers of operational nonstrategic
nuclear warheads declining from more than 7,000 in the mid-1970s to below 6,000 in the 1980s,
to fewer than 1,000 by the middle of the 1990s.16 These reductions occurred, for the most part,
13 “The United States retains substantial nuclear capabilities in Europe to counter Warsaw Pact conventional superiority
and to serve as a link to U.S. strategic nuclear forces.” National Security Strategy of the United States, White House,
January 1988, p. 16.
14 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “The Alliance’s Strategic Concept,” NATO Office of Information and Press,
Brussels, Belgium, 1991, para. 8.
15 Ibid, para. 55.
16 Toward a Nuclear Peace: The Future of Nuclear Weapons in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, Report of the CSIS
Nuclear Strategy Study Group, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993. p. 27.
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because U.S. and NATO officials believed they could maintain deterrence with fewer, but more
modern, weapons. For example, when the NATO allies agreed in 1970 that the United States
should deploy new intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, they decided to remove 1,000
older nuclear weapons from Europe. And in 1983, in the Montebello Decision, when the NATO
defense ministers approved additional weapons modernization plans, they also called for a further
reduction of 1,400 nonstrategic nuclear weapons.17
These modernization programs continued through the 1980s. In his 1988 Annual Report to
Congress, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger noted that the United States was completing
the deployment of Pershing II intermediate-range ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise
missiles in Europe; modernizing two types of nuclear artillery shells; upgrading the Lance shortrange
ballistic missile; continuing production of the nuclear-armed version of the Tomahawk sealaunched
cruise missile; and developing a new nuclear depth/strike bomb for U.S. naval forces.18
However, by the end of that decade, as the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the United States had canceled
or scaled back all planned modernization programs. In 1987, it also signed the Intermediate-
Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched
shorter and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.19
Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War
Strategy and Doctrine
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union also considered nuclear weapons to be instrumental to its
military strategy.20 Although the Soviet Union had pledged that it would not be the first to use
nuclear weapons, most Western observers doubted that it would actually observe this pledge in a
conflict. Instead, analysts argue that the Soviet Union had integrated nuclear weapons into its
warfighting plans to a much greater degree than the United States. Soviet analysts stressed that
these weapons would be useful for both surprise attack and preemptive attack. According to one
Russian analyst, the Soviet Union would have used nonstrategic nuclear weapons to conduct
strategic operations in the theater of war and to reinforce conventional units in large scale land
and sea operations.21 This would have helped the Soviet Union achieve success in these theaters
of war and would have diverted forces of the enemy from Soviet territory.
The Soviet Union reportedly began to reduce its emphasis on nuclear warfighting strategies in the
mid-1980s, under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He reportedly believed that the use of
17 The text of the Montebello decision can be found in Larson, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors.
Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons. Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for
National Security Studies, July 2001. pp. 265-266.
18 Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Annual Report to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1988, January 1987, pp. 217-
218.
19 For a description of the terms and implications of this treaty see, CRS Report RL30033, Arms Control and
Disarmament Activities: A Catalog of Recent Events, by Amy F. Woolf, coordinator. (Out of print. For copies, contact
Amy Woolf at 202-707-2379.)
20 For a more detailed review of Soviet and Russian nuclear strategy see CRS Report 97-586, Russia's Nuclear Forces:
Doctrine and Force Structure Issues, by Amy F. Woolf and Kara Wilson (Out of print. For copies, contact Amy Woolf
at 202-707-2379.)
21 Ivan Safranchuk, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in the Modern World: A Russian Perspective,” in Alexander, Brian and
Alistair Millar, editors, Tactical Nuclear Weapons (Washington DC: Brassey’s Inc., 2003), p. 53.
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nuclear weapons would be catastrophic. Nevertheless, they remained a key tool of deterring and
fighting a large-scale conflict with the United States and NATO.
Force Structure
The Soviet Union produced and deployed a wide range of delivery vehicles for nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. At different times during the period, it deployed devices that were small enough
to fit into a suitcase-sized container, nuclear mines, shells for artillery, short-, medium-, and
intermediate-range ballistic missiles, short-range air-delivered missiles, and gravity bombs. The
Soviet Union deployed these weapons at nearly 600 bases, with some located in Warsaw Pact
nations in Eastern Europe, some in the non-Russian republics on the western and southern
perimeter of the nation and throughout Russia. Estimates vary, but many analysts believe that, in
1991, the Soviet Union had more than 20,000 of these weapons. The numbers may have been
higher, in the range of 25,000 weapons in earlier years, before the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.22
The 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives
In September and October 1991, U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev sharply altered their nations’ deployments of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.23 Each
announced unilateral, but reciprocal initiatives that marked the end of many elements of their
Cold War nuclear arsenals.
U.S. Initiative
On September 27, 1991, U.S. President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States
would withdraw all land-based tactical nuclear weapons (those that could travel less than 300
miles) from overseas bases and all sea-based tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. surface ships,
submarines, and naval aircraft.24 Under these measures the United States began dismantling
approximately 2,150 warheads from the land-based delivery systems, including 850 warheads for
Lance missiles and 1,300 artillery shells. It also withdrew about 500 weapons normally deployed
aboard surface ships and submarines, and planned to eliminate around 900 B-57 depth bombs,25
which had been deployed on land and at sea, and the weapons for land-based naval aircraft.26
Furthermore, in late 1991, NATO decided to reduce by about half the number of weapons for
nuclear-capable aircraft based in Europe, which led to the withdrawal of an additional 700 U.S.
air-delivered nuclear weapons.
22 Joshua Handler, “The 1991-1992 PNIs and the Elimination, Storage and Security of Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” in
Alexander, Brian and Alistair Millar, editors, Tactical Nuclear Weapons (Washington DC: Brassey’s Inc., 2003), p. 31.
23 The speeches outlining these initiatives can be found in Larson, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors,
Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons. Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for
National Security Studies, July 2001, pp. 273-283.
24 President Bush also announced that he would remove from alert all U.S. strategic bombers and 450 Minuteman II
ICBMs that were to be eliminated under the START Treaty. He also cancelled several modernization programs for
strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons.
25 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, pp. 21-22.
26 The United States maintained the capability to return sea-based nuclear weapons to aircraft carriers and submarines
until this policy was changed through the Nuclear Posture Reviews of 1994 and 2001.
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The United States implemented these measures very quickly. Nonstrategic nuclear weapons were
removed from bases in Korea by the end of 1991 and Europe by mid-1992. The Navy had
withdrawn nuclear weapons from its surface ships, submarines, and forward bases by the mid-
1992.27 The warhead dismantlement process has moved more slowly, taking most of the 1990s to
complete for some weapons, but this was due to the limits on capacity at the Pantex Plant in
Texas, where dismantlement occurs.
The first Bush Administration decided to withdraw these weapons for several reasons. First, the
threat the weapons were to deter—Soviet and Warsaw Pact attacks in Europe—had diminished
with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989. Further, the military utility of the land-based
weapons had declined as the Soviet Union pulled its forces eastward, beyond the range of these
weapons. The utility of the sea-based weapons had also declined as a result of changes in U.S.
warfighting concepts that accompanied the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the withdrawal of the
sea-based weapons helped ease a source of tensions between the United States and some allies,
such as New Zealand and Japan, who had been uncomfortable with the possible presence of
nuclear weapons during port visits by U.S. naval forces.28
The President’s announcement also responded to growing concerns among analysts about the
safety and security of Soviet nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union had deployed
thousands of these weapons at bases in remote areas of its territory and at bases outside Soviet
territory in Eastern Europe. The demise of the Warsaw Pact and political upheaval in Eastern
Europe generated concerns about the safety of these weapons. The abortive coup in Moscow in
August 1991 had also caused alarms about the strength of central control over nuclear weapons
inside the Soviet Union. The U.S. initiative was not contingent on a Soviet response, and the
Bush Administration did not consult with Soviet leadership prior to its public announcement, but
many hoped that the U.S. initiative would provide President Gorbachev with the incentive to take
similar steps to withdraw and eliminate many of his nation’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Soviet and Russian Initiatives
On October 5, 1991, Russia’s President Gorbachev replied that he, too, would withdraw and
eliminate nonstrategic nuclear weapons.29 He stated that the Soviet Union would destroy all
nuclear artillery ammunition and warheads for tactical missiles; remove warheads for nuclear
anti-aircraft missiles and destroy some of them; destroy all nuclear land-mines; and remove all
naval non-strategic weapons from submarines and surface ships and ground-based naval aviation,
destroying some of them. Estimates of the numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons deployed by
the Soviet Union varied, with a range as great as 15,000-21,700 nonstrategic nuclear weapons in
the Soviet arsenal in 1991.30 Consequently, analysts expected these measures to affect several
thousand weapons.
Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin pledged to continue implementing these measures after the
Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. He also stated that Russia would destroy many of the
27 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 22.
28 See, for example, Crisis in U.S.-New Zealand Relations, CRS Report 85-92, by Robert G. Sutter, (Out of print. For
copies, contact Amy Woolf at 202-707-2379.)
29 President Gorbachev also addressed strategic nuclear weapons in his initiative, announcing that he would remove
bombers and more than 500 ballistic missiles from alert and cancelling many modernization programs.
30 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 31.
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warheads removed from nonstrategic nuclear weapons.31 These included all warheads from shortrange
missiles, artillery, and atomic demolition devices; one-third of the warheads from sea-based
nonstrategic weapons; half of the warheads from air-defense interceptors; and half of the
warheads from the Air Force’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Reports indicate that the Soviet Union had begun removing nonstrategic nuclear weapons from
bases outside Soviet territory after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and they had probably all
been removed from Eastern Europe and the Transcaucasus prior to the 1991 announcements.
Nevertheless, President Gorbachev’s pledge to withdraw and eliminate many of these weapons
spurred their removal from other former Soviet states after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Reports indicate that they had all been removed from the Baltic States and Central Asian
republics by the end of 1991, and from Ukraine and Belarus by mid-late spring 1992.32
The status of nonstrategic nuclear weapons deployed on Russian territory is far less certain.
According to some estimates, the naval systems were removed from deployment by the end of
1993, but the Army and Air Force systems remained in the field until 1996 and 1997.33
Furthermore, Russia has been far slower to eliminate the warheads from these systems than has
the United States. Some analysts and experts in the United States have expressed concerns about
the slow pace of eliminations in Russia. They note that the continuing existence of these
warheads, along with the increasing reliance on nuclear weapons in Russia’s national security
strategy, indicate that Russia may reverse its pledges and re-introduce nonstrategic nuclear
weapons into its deployed forces. Others note that financial constraints could have slowed the
elimination of these warheads, or that Russia decided to coordinate the elimination effort with the
previously scheduled retirement of older weapons.34
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War
Strategy and Doctrine
NATO Policy
In U.S. and NATO policy, nonstrategic nuclear weapons have served not only as a deterrent to a
wide range of potential aggressors, but also as an important element in NATO’s cohesion as an
alliance. NATO reaffirmed the importance of nonstrategic nuclear weapons for deterrence and
alliance cohesion several times during the 1990s. In the press communiqué released after their
November 1995 meeting, the members of NATO’s Defense Planning Committee and Nuclear
Planning Group stated that “Alliance Solidarity, common commitment, and strategic unity are
demonstrated through the current basing of deployable sub-strategic [nuclear] forces in
Europe.”35 In 1997, in the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security Between
31 For the text of President Yeltsin’s statement, see Larsen and Klingenberger, pp. 284-289.
32 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 22.
33 Joshua Handler, “The September 1991 PNIs and the Elimination, Storage and Security Aspects of TNWs,”
Presentation for seminar at the United Nations, New York. September 24, 2001.
34 For details on current concerns with Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons, see Miles Pomper, William Potter, and
Nikolai Sokov, Reducing and Regulating Tactical (Nonstrategic) Nuclear Weapons in Europe, The James Martin
Center For Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, CA, December 2009.
35 NATO Press Communique M-DPC/NPG-2(95)117, November 29, 1995, para. 21.
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the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO members assured
Russia that it had “no intention, no plan, and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory
of new members.” But NATO also stated that it had no need “to change any aspect of NATO’s
nuclear policy—and do not foresee any future need to do so [emphasis added].”36 Finally, the
“New Strategic Concept” signed in April 1999 stated that “to protect peace and to prevent war or
any kind of coercion, the Alliance will maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of
nuclear and conventional forces. Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the
risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable.”37
NATO completed the next review of its Strategic Concept in November 2010. In this document,
the allies indicated that “deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional
capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy.” The document went on to indicate
that NATO would remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons continued to exist. It also
noted that the alliance would “maintain an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces” to
ensure that “NATO has the full range of capabilities to deter and defend against any threat.”
However, the Strategic Concept did not refer, specifically, to the U.S. nuclear weapons based in
Europe, as had the communiqué released in 1995. Instead, the Strategic Concept noted that the
“supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the
Alliance, particularly those of the United States [emphasis added].” It went on to indicate that
“the independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a
deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Allies.”38
Moreover, the 2010 Strategic Concept alluded to the possibility of further reductions in nuclear
weapons, both within the alliance and globally, in the future. The document noted that the allies
are “resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear
weapons in accordance with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in a way that
promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all.” It
also noted that the alliance had “dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons stationed in
Europe” and had reduced the role of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy.” The allies pledged to
“seek to create the conditions for further reductions in the future.” The Strategic Concept
indicated that the goal in these reductions should be to “seek Russian agreement to increase
transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the
territory of NATO members.” Moreover, the document noted that this arms control process “must
take into account the disparity with the greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear
weapons.”39 Hence, even though NATO no longer views Russia as an adversary, the allies
apparently agreed that the disparity in nonstrategic nuclear weapons could create security
concerns for some members of the alliance.
In recognition of different views about the role or nuclear weapons in alliance policy, the allies
agreed that they would continue to review NATO’s deterrence and defense posture in a study that
would be completed in time for NATO’s May 2012 summit in Chicago. They agreed that the
36 “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security Between the Russian Federation and the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization,” signed at Paris, May 27, 1997.
37 The Alliance’s Strategic Concept, approved by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the
North Atlantic Council in Washington DC, April 23-24, 1999.
38 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Active Engagement, Modern Defence, Strategic Concept For the
Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Lisbon, Portugal, November 29,
2010, pp. 4-5, http://www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf.
39 Ibid., pp. 7-8.
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Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) would examine the full range of capabilities
required, including nuclear weapons, missile defense, and other means of strategic deterrence and
defense.40 However, the completed DDPR did not recommend any changes in NATO’s nuclear
posture. Instead, it noted that “nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall
capabilities for deterrence and defence,” and that “the Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently
meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defence posture.”41 The study did reiterate the
alliance’s interest in pursuing arms control measures with Russia to address concerns with these
weapons. The DDPR noted that the allies “look forward to continuing to develop and exchange
transparency and confidence-building ideas with the Russian Federation in the NATO-Russia
Council, with the goal of developing detailed proposals on and increasing mutual understanding
of NATO’s and Russia’s non-strategic nuclear force postures in Europe.” It also indicated that
NATO would “consider, in the context of the broader security environment, what [it] would
expect to see in the way of reciprocal Russian actions to allow for significant reductions in
forward-based non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to NATO.”42 In other words, any further
changes in NATO’s nuclear posture were linked to reciprocal changes in Russia’s nonstrategic
nuclear weapons posture.
Extended Deterrence
Recent discussions about the U.S. nuclear weapons policy have placed a renewed emphasis on the
role of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons in extended deterrence and assurance. Extended
deterrence refers to the U.S. threat to use nuclear weapons in response to attacks, from Russia or
other adversaries, against allies in NATO and some allies in Asia.43 Assurance refers to the U.S.
promise, made to those same allies, to come to their defense and assistance if they are threatened
or attacked. The weapons deployed in Europe are a visible reminder of that commitment; the seabased
nonstrategic nuclear weapons in storage that could be deployed in the Pacific in a crisis
served a similar purpose for U.S. allies in Asia. Recent debates, however, have focused on the
question of whether a credible U.S. extended deterrent requires that the United States maintain
weapons deployed in Europe, and the ability to deploy them in the Pacific, or whether other U.S.
military capabilities, including strategic nuclear weapons and conventional forces, may be
sufficient.44
In the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama Administration stated that the United States “will
continue to assure our allies and partners of our commitment to their security and to demonstrate
this commitment not only through words, but also through deeds.”45 The NPR indicated that a
40 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Lisbon Summit Declaration, Lisbon, Portugal, November 20, 2010,
http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_68828.htm.
41 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, Press Release, Chicago, IL,
May 20, 2012, p. 2. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_87597.htm?mode=pressrelease.
42 Ibid., p. 4.
43 The United States extends nuclear deterrence to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. It may also assure other allies of
the U.S. commitment to their security, but these assurances do not necessarily include legally binding commitments to
retaliate with nuclear weapons, if necessary. See Clark A. Murdock and Jessica M. Yeats, Exploring the Nuclear
Posture Implications of Extended Deterrence and Assurance, CSIS, Workshop Proceeding and Key Takeaways,
Washington, DC, November 2009, http://csis.org/publication/exploring-nuclear-posture-implications-extendeddeterrence-
and-assurance.
44 For see a discussion of these issues, see several essays in In the Eyes of the Experts: Analysis and Comments on
America’s Strategic Posture, ed. Taylor Bolz (Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009).
45 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, DC, April 6, 2010, p. 31, http://www.defense.gov/
(continued...)
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
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wide range of U.S. military capabilities would support this goal, but also indicated that U.S.
commitments would “retain a nuclear dimension as long as nuclear threats to U.S. allies and
partners remain.” The Administration did not, however, specify that the nuclear dimension would
be met with nonstrategic nuclear weapons; the full range of U.S. capabilities would likely be
available to support and defend U.S. allies. In addition, the Administration announced that the
United States would retire the nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles that had helped provide
assurances to U.S. allies in Asia. In essence, the Administration concluded that the United States
could reassure U.S. allies in Asia, and deter threats to their security, without deploying sea-based
cruise missiles to the region in a crisis.
Moreover, the possible use of nuclear weapons, and extended nuclear deterrence, were a part of a
broader concept that the Administration referred to as “regional security architectures.” The NPR
indicated that regional security architectures were a key part of “the U.S. strategy for
strengthening regional deterrence while reducing the role and numbers of nuclear weapons.” As a
result, these architectures would “include effective missile defense, counter-WMD capabilities,
conventional power-projection capabilities, and integrated command and control—all
underwritten by strong political commitments.”46 In other words, although the United States
would continue to extend deterrence to its allies and seek to assure them of the U.S. commitment
to their security, it would draw on a political commitments and a range of military capabilities to
achieve these goals.
Regional Contingencies
In the past, U.S. discussions about nonstrategic nuclear weapons have also addressed questions
about the role they might play in deterring or responding to regional contingencies that involved
threats from nations that may not be armed with their own nuclear weapons. For example, former
Secretary of Defense Perry stated that, “maintaining U.S. nuclear commitments with NATO, and
retaining the ability to deploy nuclear capabilities to meet various regional contingencies,
continues to be an important means for deterring aggression, protecting and promoting U.S.
interests, reassuring allies and friends, and preventing proliferation (emphasis added).”47
Specifically, both during the Cold War and after the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States
maintained the option to use nuclear weapons in response to attacks with conventional, chemical,
or biological weapons. For example, in 1999, Assistant Secretary of Defense Edward Warner
testified that “the U.S. capability to deliver an overwhelming, rapid, and devastating military
response with the full range of military capabilities will remain the cornerstone of our strategy for
deterring rogue nation ballistic missile and WMD proliferation threats. The very existence of U.S.
strategic and theater nuclear forces, backed by highly capable conventional forces, should
certainly give pause to any rogue leader contemplating the use of WMD against the United States,
its overseas deployed forces, or its allies.”48 These statements do not indicate whether
nonstrategic nuclear weapons would be used to achieve battlefield or tactical objectives, or
whether they would contribute to strategic missions, but it remained evident, throughout the
(...continued)
npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf.
46 Ibid. p. 32.
47 Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, Annual Report to the President and the Congress, February 1995, p. 84.
48 Statement of the Honorable Edward L. Warner, III, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat
Reduction, before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, April 14, 1999.
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1990s, that the United States continued to view these weapons as a part of its national security
strategy.
The George W. Bush Administration also emphasized the possible use of nuclear weapons in
regional contingencies in its 2001 Nuclear Posture Review. The Bush Administration appeared to
shift towards a somewhat more explicit approach when acknowledging that the United States
might use nuclear weapons in response to attacks by nations armed with chemical, biological, and
conventional weapons, stating that the United States would develop and deploy those nuclear
capabilities that it would need to defeat the capabilities of any potential adversary whether or not
it possessed nuclear weapons.49 This does not, by itself, indicate that the United States would plan
to use nonstrategic nuclear weapons. However, many analysts concluded from these and other
comments by Bush Administration officials that the United States was planning for the tactical,
first use of nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration never confirmed this view, and, instead,
indicated that it would not use nuclear weapons in anything other than the most grave
circumstances.
The Obama Administration, on the other hand, seemed to foreclose the option of using nuclear
weapons in some regional contingencies. Specifically, it stated, in the 2010 NPR, that “the United
States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are
party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation
obligations.” Specifically, if such a nation were to attack the United States with
conventional, chemical, or biological weapons, the United States would respond with
overwhelming conventional force, but it would not threaten to use nuclear weapons if the
attacking nation was in compliance with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations and it did not
have nuclear weapons of its own.50 At the same time, though, the NPR stated that any state that
used chemical or biological weapons “against the United States or its allies and partners would
face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response—and that any individuals
responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully
accountable.”51
Force Structure
Through the late 1990s and early in George W. Bush Administration, the United States
maintained approximately 1,100 nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its active stockpile. Unclassified
reports indicate that, of this number, around 500 were air-delivered bombs deployed at bases in
Europe. The remainder, including some additional air-delivered bombs and around 320 nucleararmed
sea-launched cruise missiles, were held in storage areas in the United States.52 After the
49 See, for example, “Global Strike: A Chronology of the Pentagon’s New Offensive Strike Plan,” by Hans M.
Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, March 15, 2005, pp. 108.
50 The NPR did include caveats to this declaration. The Obama Administration stated that it would not use nuclear
weapons in response to chemical or biological attack, if the attacking nation were in compliance with its nuclear
nonproliferation obligations. The possibility of a nuclear response remained, however, if a nation armed with nuclear
weapons uses nuclear, chemical, biological, or even conventional weapons against U.S. forces or allies. In addition, the
NPR stated that the United States might reconsider the pledge not to respond to biological weapons with nuclear
weapons in the future.
51 Nuclear Posture Review, p. 16, http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/
2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf.
52 “NRDC Nuclear Notebook: U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2007,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2007.
See, also, U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe, 1954-2004, by Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen. Bulletin of the
(continued...)
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Clinton Administration’s 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, the United States eliminated its ability to
return nuclear weapons to U.S. surface ships (it had retained this ability after removing the
weapons under the 1991 PNI). It retained, however, its ability to restore cruise missiles to attack
submarines, and it did not recommend any changes in the number of air-delivered weapons
deployed in Europe. During this time, the United States also consolidated its weapons storage
sites for nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It reportedly reduced the number of these facilities “by
over 75%” between 1988 and 1994. It eliminated two of its four storage sites for sea-launched
cruise missiles, retaining only one facility on each coast of the United States. It also reduced the
number of bases in Europe that store nuclear weapons from over 125 bases in the mid-1980s to
10 bases, in seven countries, by 2000.53
The Bush Administration did not recommend any changes for U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons
after completing its Nuclear Posture Review in 2001. Reports indicate that it decided to retain the
capability to restore cruise missiles to attack submarines because of their ability to deploy, in
secret, anywhere on the globe in time of crisis.54 The NPR also did not recommend any changes
to the deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe, leaving decisions about their status
to the members of the NATO alliance.
Nevertheless, according to unclassified reports, the United States did reduce the number of
nuclear weapons deployed in Europe and the number of facilities that house those weapons
during the George W. Bush Administration. Some reports indicate that the weapons were
withdrawn from Greece and Ramstein Air Base in Germany between 2001 and 2005. In addition,
reports indicate that the United States also withdrew its nuclear weapons from the RAF
Lakenheath air base in the United Kingdom in 2006.55 According to a recent unclassified report,
the United States now deploys 160-200 bombs at six bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the
Netherlands, and Turkey.56 Some of these weapons are stored at U.S. bases and would be
delivered by U.S. aircraft. Others are stored at bases operated by the “host nation” and would be
delivered by that nation’s aircraft if NATO decided to employ nuclear weapons.
The Obama Administration has not announced any further reductions to U.S. nuclear weapons in
Europe and has indicated that the United States would “consult with our allies regarding the
future basing of nuclear weapons in Europe.” In the months prior to the completion of NATO’s
new Strategic Concept, some politicians in some European nations did propose that the United
States withdraw these weapons. For example, Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister,
stated that he supported the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany. Some reports
indicate that Belgium and the Netherlands also supported this goal.57 As was noted above, NATO
did not call for the removal of these weapons in its new Strategic Concept, but did indicate that it
would be open to reducing them as a result of arms control negotiations with Russia.
(...continued)
Atomic Scientists. November/December 2004.
53 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, pp. 23.-25
54 Norris and Kristensen, op.cit.
55 Kristensen, Hans. U.S. Nuclear Weapons Withdrawn from the United Kingdom. Federation of American Scientists,
Strategic Security Blog. June 26, 2008, http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2008/06/us-nuclear-weapons-withdrawn-from-theunited-
kingdom.php.
56 Hans M. Kristensen, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Federation of American Scientists, Special Report No. 3,
Washington, D.C., May 2012, p. 16, http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.
57 Julian Borger, “Germans Press for Removal of U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” The Guardian, November 7, 2009.
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Moreover, in the 2010 NPR, the Obama Administration indicated that it would take the steps
necessary to maintain the capability to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. It indicated that
the U.S. Air Force would retain the capability to deliver both nuclear and conventional weapons
as it replaced aging F-16 aircraft with the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The NPR also indicated
that the United States would conduct a “full scope” life extension program for the B61 bomb, the
weapon that is currently deployed in Europe, “to ensure its functionality with the F-35.” This life
extension program will consolidate four versions of the B61 bomb, including the B61-3 and B61-
4 that are currently deployed in Europe, into one version, the B61-12. Reports indicate that this
new version will reuse the nuclear components of the older bombs, but will include enhanced
safety and security features and a new “tail kit” that will increase the accuracy of the weapon.58
On the other hand, the NPR indicated that the U.S. Navy would retire its nuclear-armed, sealaunched
cruise missiles (TLAM-N). It indicated that “this system serves a redundant purpose in
the U.S. nuclear stockpile” because it is one of several weapons the United States could deploy
forward. The NPR also noted that “U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs are capable of striking any potential
adversary.” As a result, because “the deterrence and assurance roles of TLAM-N can be
adequately substituted by these other means,” the United States could continue to extend
deterrence and provide assurance to its allies in Asia without maintaining the capability to
redeploy TLAM-N missiles.59
Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War
Strategy and Doctrine
Russia has altered and adjusted the Soviet nuclear strategy to meet its new circumstances in a
post-Cold War world. It explicitly rejected the Soviet Union’s no-first-use pledge in 1993,
indicating that it viewed nuclear weapons as a central feature in its military and security
strategies. However, Russia did not maintain the Soviet Union’s view of the need for nuclear
weapons to conduct surprise attacks or preemptive attacks. Instead, it seems to view these
weapons as more defensive in nature, as a deterrent to conventional or nuclear attack and as a
means to retaliate and defend itself if an attack were to occur.
Russia has revised its national security and military strategy several times in the past 20 years,
with successive versions appearing to place a greater reliance on nuclear weapons.60 For example,
the military doctrine issued in 1997 allowed for the use of nuclear weapons “in case of a threat to
the existence of the Russian Federation.” The doctrine published in 2000 expanded the
circumstances when Russia might use nuclear weapons to include attacks using weapons of mass
destruction against Russia or its allies “as well as in response to large-scale aggression utilizing
conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”61
58 Hans M. Kristensen, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Federation of American Scientists, Special Report No. 3,
Washington, D.C., May 2012, p. 24, http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.
59 Nuclear Posture Review, p. 28. http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/
2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf.
60 According to Alexander Pikayev, a Russian defense analyst, scenarios for the possible use of nuclear weapons
broadened since 1993 and 1997. See David Hoffman, “New Russian Security Plan Criticizes West, Doctrine Broadens
Nuclear Use Policy,” Washington Post, January 15, 2000, p. 1.
61 “Russia’s Military Doctrine,” Reprinted in Arms Control Today, May 2000.
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In mid-2009, when discussing the revision of Russia’s defense strategy that was expected late in
2009 or early 2010, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Presidential Security Council,
indicated that Russia would have the option to launch a “preemptive nuclear strike” against an
aggressor “using conventional weapons in an all-out, regional, or even local war.”62
However, when Russia published the final draft of the doctrine, in early 2010, it did not
specifically authorize the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Instead, it stated that “Russia
reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a use of nuclear or other weapons of mass
destruction against her and (or) her allies, and in a case of an aggression against her with
conventional weapons that would put in danger the very existence of the state.”63 Instead of
expanding the range of circumstances when Russia might use nuclear weapons, this actually
seemed to narrow the range, from the 2000 version that allowed for nuclear use “in situations
critical to the national security of the Russian Federation” to the current form that states they
might be used in a case “that would put in danger the very existence of the state.”64
Hence, there is little indication that Russia plans to use nuclear weapons at the outset of a
conflict, before it has engaged with conventional weapons, even though Russia could resort to the
use of nuclear weapons first, during an ongoing conventional conflict.65 This is not new, and has
been a part of Russian military doctrine for years.
Analysts have identified several factors that have contributed to Russia’s increasing dependence
on nuclear weapons. First, with the demise of the Soviet Union and the economic upheavals of
the 1990s, Russia no longer had the means to support a large and effective conventional army.
The conflicts in Chechnya and Georgia highlighted seeming weaknesses in Russia’s conventional
military forces. Russian analysts also saw emerging threats in other former Soviet states along
Russia’s periphery. Many analysts believed that by threatening, even implicitly, that it might
resort to nuclear weapons, Russia hoped it could enhance its ability to deter similar regional
conflicts. Russia’s sense of vulnerability, and its view that the threats to its security were
increasing, also stemmed from the debates over NATO enlargement. Russia has feared the
growing alliance would create a new challenge to Russia’s security, particularly if NATO moved
nuclear weapons closer to Russia’s borders. These concerns contributed to the statement that
Russia might use nuclear weapons if its national survival were threatened.
For many in Russia, NATO’s air campaign in Kosovo in 1999 underlined Russia’s growing
weakness and NATO’s increasing willingness to threaten Russian interests. Its National Security
Concept published in 2000 noted that the level and scope of the military threat to Russia was
growing. It cited, specifically, as a fundamental threat to its security, “the desire of some states
and international associations to diminish the role of existing mechanisms for ensuring
international security.” There are also threats in the border sphere. “A vital task of the Russian
Federation is to exercise deterrence to prevent aggression on any scale and nuclear or otherwise,
against Russia and its allies.” Consequently, Russia concluded that it “should possess nuclear
62 David Nowak, “Report: Russia to allow Pre-emptive Nukes,” Associated Press, October 14, 2009.
63 Text of the New Russian Military Doctrine, Available at Opensource.gov, February 5, 2010.
64 Nikolai Sokov, The new, 2010 Russian Military Doctrine: The Nuclear Angle, Center for Nonproliferation Studies,
CNS Feature Story, Monterey, CA, February 5, 2010.
65 Pavel Podvig, “New Russian Doctrine and Preventive Nuclear Strikes,” Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, October
14, 2009, http://russianforces.org/blog/2009/10/new_russian_doctrine_and_preve.shtml.
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forces that are capable of guaranteeing the infliction of the desired extent of damage against any
aggressor state or coalition of states in any conditions and circumstances.”66
The debate over the role of nuclear weapons in Russia’s national security strategy in the late
1990s considered both strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. With concerns focused on
threats emerging around the borders of the former Soviet Union, analysts specifically considered
whether nonstrategic nuclear weapons could substitute for conventional weaknesses in regional
conflicts. The government appeared to resolve this debate in favor of the modernization and
expansion of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in 1999, shortly after the conflict in Kosovo. During a
meeting of the Kremlin Security Council, Russia’s President Yeltsin and his security chiefs
reportedly agreed “that Moscow should develop and deploy tactical, as well as, strategic nuclear
weapons.”67 Vladimir Putin, who was then chairman of the Security Council, stated that President
Yeltsin had endorsed “a blueprint for the development and use of nonstrategic nuclear
weapons.”68
Many analysts in the United States interpreted this development, along with questions about
Russia’s implementation of its obligations under the 1991 PNI, to mean that Russia was “walking
back” from its obligation to withdraw and eliminate nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Others drew a
different conclusion. One Russian analyst has speculated that the documents approved in 1999
focused on the development of operations plans that would allow Russia to conduct “limited
nuclear war with strategic means in order to deter the enemy, requiring the infliction of preplanned,
but limited damage.”69 Specifically, he argued that Russia planned to seek a new
generation of nonstrategic, or low yield, warheads that could be to be delivered by strategic
launchers. Others believe Russia has also pursued the modernization of existing nonstrategic
nuclear weapons and development of new nuclear warheads for shorter-range nuclear missiles.
The potential threat from NATO remained a concern for Russia in its 2010 Military Doctrine.70 It
stated, specifically, that the main external military dangers to Russia are “the desire to endow the
force potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with global functions carried
out in violation of the norms of international law and to move the military infrastructure of NATO
member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the
bloc.” It also noted that Russia was threatened by “the deployment of troop contingents of foreign
states (groups of states) on the territories of states contiguous with the Russian Federation and its
allies and also in adjacent waters.” Hence, Russia views NATO troops in nations near Russia’s
borders as a threat to Russian security. In an environment where Russia also has doubts about the
effectiveness of its conventional forces, its doctrine allows for the possible use of nonstrategic
nuclear weapons during a local or regional conflict on its periphery. The doctrine does not say
that Russia would use nuclear weapons to preempt such an attack, but it does reserve the right to
use them in response.
66 “2000 Russian National Security Concept,” Nezavisimoye Voennaye Obozreniye, January 14, 2000.
67 Martin Nesirky, “Focus: Nuclear-power Russia Wants Tactical Weapons,” Reuters, April 29, 1999.
68 David Hoffman, “Kremlin to Bolster Nuclear Stockpile, Government Fears Short-Range Missiles May Be
Inadequate,” Washington Post, April 30, 1999, p. 19.
69 Ivan Safranchik, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in the Modern World: A Russian Perspective,” in Alexander and Millar,
Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 54.
70 Text of the New Russian Military Doctrine, Available at Opensource.gov, February 5, 2010
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Force Structure
It is difficult to estimate the number of nonstrategic nuclear weapons remaining in the Russia
arsenal. This uncertainty stems from several factors: uncertainty about the number of nonstrategic
nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had stored and deployed in 1991, when President
Gorbachev announced his PNI; uncertainty about the pace of warhead elimination in Russia; and
uncertainty about whether all warheads removed from deployment are still scheduled for
elimination.
Analysts estimate that the Soviet Union may have deployed 15,000-25,000 nonstrategic nuclear
weapons, or more, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During the 1990s, Russian officials stated
publicly that they had completed the weapons withdrawals mandated by the PNIs and had
proceeded to eliminate warheads at a rate of 2,000 per year.71 However, many experts doubt these
statements, noting that Russia probably lacked the financial and technical means to proceed this
quickly. In addition Russian officials have offered a moving deadline for this process in their
public statements. For example, at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in
2000, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov stated that Russia was about to finish implementing its
PNIs. But, at a follow-up meeting two years later, Russian officials stated that the elimination
process was continuing, and, with adequate funding, could be completed by the end of 2004.72 In
2007, an official from Russia’s Ministry of Defense stated that Russia had completed the
elimination of all of the warheads for its ground forces, 60% of its missile defense warheads, and
50% of its air force warheads, and 30% of its naval warheads.73 In 2010, the Russian government
revised this number and said it had reduced its nonstrategic nuclear weapons inventory by 75%.74
In 2003, General Yuri Baluyevsky, who was then the first deputy chief of staff of the Russian
General Staff stated that Russia would not destroy all of its tactical nuclear weapons, that it
would, instead, “hold on to its stockpiles” in response to U.S. plans to develop new types of
nuclear warheads.75 General Nikolai Makarov, head of the Russian General Staff, made a similar
comment in 2008. He said that Russia would “keep nonstrategic nuclear forces as long as Europe
is unstable and packed with armaments.”76
With consideration for these uncertainties, recent estimates indicate that Russia may still have up
to 4,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons.77 In its report, the congressionally mandated
Strategic Posture Commission indicated that Russia may have around 3,800 operational
nonstrategic nuclear weapons.78 This number may exclude warheads slated for retirement. Within
71 Lewis Dunn, “Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons Control: What is the Problem?,” in Larsen, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J.
Klingenberger, editors, Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons: Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air
Force, Institute for National Security Studies, July 2001, p. 17.
72 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 29.
73 Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Russian Nuclear Forces, 2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
January/February 2010, p79.
74 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian Nuclear Forces, 2011,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 67,
no. 3 (May/June 2011), p. 71.
75 Vladimir Isachenkov, “U.S. Nuke Development Concerns Russia,” Interfax, November 26, 2003.
76 “Russian Military Chief Defends Nonstrategic Nukes,” Global Security Newswire, December 17, 2008.
77 U.S. Congress, House Armed Services Committee Hearing. James Miller, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy. Prepared Statement. November 2, 2011. p. 2.
78 William J. Perry, Chairman and James R. Schlesinger, Vice Chairman, America’s Strategic Posture, The Final
Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, Washington, DC, April 2009, p.
(continued...)
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
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this total, some estimates indicate that Russia may have around 2,000 active warheads assigned to
non-strategic delivery vehicles, while the remaining warheads are probably retired or awaiting
dismantlement.79 While some estimate that only air-delivered weapons remain operational, the
total amount may be split between warheads for tactical aviation, naval nuclear weapons, and air
defense missiles, with some ground forces still in the mix.80 One recent source concludes that,
within its total, Russia has approximately 170 warheads for Army missiles, 430 warheads for
missile- and air-defense forces, 730 warheads for the air force, and 700 naval nonstrategic nuclear
warheads.81 Another source, using a different methodology, concludes that Russia may have half
that amount, or only 1,000 operational warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons.82 This
estimate concludes that Russia may retain up to 210 warheads for its ground forces, up to 166
warheads for its air and missile defense forces, 334 warheads for its air force, and 330 warheads
for its naval forces.83 Where past studies have calculated the number of operational warheads by
combining estimates of reductions from Cold War levels with assessments of the number of
nuclear-capable units and delivery systems remaining in Russia’s force structure, the author of
this new study focuses on the number of operational units and the likely number of nuclear
warheads needed to achieve their assigned missions.
Russia had also reportedly reduced the number of military bases that could deploy nonstrategic
nuclear weapons and has consolidated its storage areas for these weapons. According to
unclassified estimates, the Soviet Union may have had 500-600 storage sites for nuclear warheads
in 1991. By the end of the decade, this number may have declined to about 100. In the past 10
years, Russia may have further consolidated its storage sites for nuclear weapons, retaining
around 50 in operation.84
Changing the Focus of the Debate
The preceding sections of this report focus exclusively on U.S. and Soviet/Russian nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. These weapons were an integral part of the Cold War stand-off between the two
nations. The strategy and doctrine that would have guided their use and the numbers of deployed
weapons both figured into calculations about the possibility that a conflict between the two
nations might escalate to a nuclear exchange. Other nations—including France, Great Britain, and
(...continued)
111, http://www.usip.org/files/America's_Strategic_Posture_Auth_Ed.pdf.
79 Hans M. Kristensen, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Federation of American Scientists, Special Report No. 3,
Washington, D.C., May 2012, p. 52, http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.
80 A table summarizing three different estimates can be found in Andrea Gabbitas, “Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons:
Problems of Definition,” in Larsen, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors, Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear
Weapons: Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for National Security Studies, July 2001, p.
25. See also Nikolai Sokov, “The Tactical Nuclear Weapons Controversy,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, January 2001, pp.
16-17.
81 Hans M. Kristensen, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Federation of American Scientists, Special Report No. 3,
Washington, D.C., May 2012, p. 53, http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.
82 See Igor Sutyagin, Atomic Accounting: A New Estimate of Russia's Non-strategic Nuclear Forces, Royal United
Services Institute, Occasional Paper, London, November 2012, p. 3, http://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/
1211_OP_Atomic_Accounting_Web_updated.pdf.
83 Ibid., p. 73.
84 Hans M. Kristensen, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Federation of American Scientists, Special Report No. 3,
Washington, D.C., May 2012, p. 68, http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
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China—also had nuclear weapons, but these did not affect the central conflict of the Cold War in
the same way as U.S. and Soviet forces.
The end of the Cold War, however, and the changing international security environment during
the past 20 years has rendered incomplete any discussion of nonstrategic nuclear weapons that is
limited to U.S. and Russian forces. Because both these nations maintain weapons and plans for
their use, the relationship between the two nations could still affect the debate about these
weapons. In addition, Russian officials have turned to these weapons as a part of their response to
concerns about a range of U.S. and NATO policies. Nevertheless, both these nations have looked
beyond their mutual relationship when considering possible threats and responses that might
include the use of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Both nations have highlighted the threat of the
possible use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons by other potential adversaries or nonstate
actors. Both have indicated that they might use nuclear weapons to deter or respond to
threats from other nations.
In addition, many analysts believe that a debate about nonstrategic nuclear weapons can no longer
focus exclusively on the U.S. and Russian arsenals. Even though tensions have eased in recent
years, with their nuclear tests in 1998 and continued animosity towards each other, India and
Pakistan have joined the list of nations that may potentially resort to nuclear weapons in the event
of a conflict. If measured by the range of delivery vehicles and the yield of the warheads, these
nations’ weapons could be considered to be nonstrategic. But each nation could plan to use these
weapons in either strategic or nonstrategic roles. Both nations continue to review and revise their
nuclear strategies, leaving many questions about the potential role for nuclear weapons in future
conflicts. China also has nuclear weapons with ranges and missions that could be considered
nonstrategic. Many analysts have expressed concerns about the potential for the use of nuclear
weapons in a conflict over Taiwan or other areas of China’s interests. This report does not review
the nuclear weapons programs in these nations.85 However, when reviewing the issues raised by,
problems attributed to, and solutions proposed for nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the report
acknowledges the role played by the weapons of these other nations.
Issues for Congress
During the 2010 debate on the New START Treaty, many Senators expressed concerns about
Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons. They noted that these weapons were not covered by the
new treaty, that Russia possessed a far greater number of these weapons than did the United
States, and that Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons might be vulnerable to theft or sale to
other nations seeking nuclear weapons. At the same time, during the 2010 debates prior to the
completion of NATO’s new Strategic Concept, analysts and government officials raised many
issues about U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons. These debates focused on questions about
whether NATO should continue to rely on nuclear weapons to ensure its security and whether the
United States should continue to deploy nonstrategic nuclear weapons at bases in Europe. Many
of the discussions that focused on Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and many of those that
focused on U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons reached a similar conclusion—there was
widespread agreement about the need for further cooperation between the United States and
85 For a more detailed discussion of Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese nuclear weapons, see Alexander, Brian and Alistair
Millar, editors, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, op cit. See also, Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, eds. Strategy in the
Second Nuclear Age (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012).
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Russia in containing, controlling, and possibly reducing nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The 112th
Congress reiterated its support for this agenda, when in the FY2013 Defense Authorization Act
(H.R. 4310, Section 1037) it indicated that “the United States should pursue negotiations with the
Russian Federation aimed at the reduction of Russian deployed and nondeployed nonstrategic
nuclear forces.” The 113th Congress may remain involved in the discussion as the United States
and its allies prepare to pursue these issues with Russia.
Safety and Security of Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
Many analysts argue that the greatest risks from Russia’s continued deployment of nonstrategic
nuclear weapons stem from potential problems with their safety and security in storage areas and
a possible lack of central control over their use when deployed in the field. These weapons were
deployed, and many remain in storage, at remote bases close to potential battlefields and far from
the central command authority in Moscow. The economic chaos in Russia during the 1990s raised
questions about the stability and reliability of the troops charged with monitoring and securing
these weapons. At the time, some raised concerns about the possibility that the weapons might be
lost, stolen, or sold to other nations or groups seeking nuclear weapons.86 Even though economic
conditions in Russia have improved significantly, some analysts still view Russian nonstrategic
nuclear weapons as a possible source of instability. Specifically, some have noted that “the
continuing existence of … tactical nuclear weapons … creates a risk of accidental, unauthorized
or mistaken use. In addition, the risk of terrorist groups acquiring these weapons is high.
Therefore, security vigilance is essential.”87
Russian officials deny that they might lose control over their nonstrategic nuclear weapons and
they contend that the problems of the 1990s were resolved as the weapons were withdrawn to
central storage areas.88 Moreover, there is no public evidence from Western sources about any
episodes of lost, sold, or stolen Russian nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, concerns remain that
these weapons might find their way to officials in rogue nations or non-state actors. For example,
during comments made after a speech in October 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated
that he was worried that the Russians did not know the numbers or locations of “old land mines,
nuclear artillery shells, and so on” that might be of interest to rogue states or terrorists.89 Russian
officials noted, in response to this comment, that its stocks of nuclear weapons were secure and
well-guarded and that Gates’s concerns were not valid.
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s National
Security Policy
Many analysts argue that Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons pose a risk to the United States,
its allies, and others because Russia has altered its national security concept and military
86 “Because of their size and forward basing, they are especially vulnerable to theft and unauthorized use.” See William
C. Potter and Nikolai Sokov, “Nuclear Weapons that People Forget,” International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2000.
87 Sam Nunn, Igor Ivanov, and Wolfgang Ischinger, “A Post-Nuclear Euro-Atlantic Security Order,” Moscow Times,
January 13, 2011.
88 Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, has said that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is safe and militants could never steal
an atomic bomb from the country. He further noted that it is a myth that “Russian nuclear weapons are guarded badly
and weakly.” See “Russia Says No Militant Threat to Nuclear Arsenal,” Reuters, August 3, 2004.
89 Walter Pincus, “Gates Suggests New Arms Deal With Russia,” Washington Post, October 29, 2008, p. A9.
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strategies, increasing its reliance on nuclear weapons. Some fear that Russia might resort to the
early use of nuclear weapons in a conflict along its periphery, which could lead to a wider conflict
and the possible involvement of troops from NATO or other neighboring countries, possibly
drawing in new NATO members. Some also believe that Russia could threaten NATO with its
nonstrategic nuclear weapons because Russia sees NATO as a threat to its security. Russian
analysts and officials have argued that NATO enlargement, with the possible deployment of
nuclear weapons on the territories of new NATO members close to Russia’s borders,
demonstrated how much NATO could threaten Russia.
The congressionally mandated Strategic Posture Commission expressed a measure of concern
about the military implications of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear forces. It noted that Russia “stores
thousands of these weapons in apparent support of possible military operations west of the
Urals.” It further noted that the current imbalance between U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear
warheads is “worrisome to some U.S. allies in Central Europe.” It argued that this imbalance, and
the allies’ worries, could become more pronounced in the future if the United States and Russia
continue to reduce their numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons.90 Moreover, some have
questioned, if the United States and Russia no longer see each other as adversaries, and a conflict
between Russia and NATO is so remote, why Russia feels it needs to maintain so many
nonstrategic nuclear weapons or to compensate for the weaknesses in its conventional forces.
This posture could indicate, particularly when combined with Russia’s statements about NATO in
its military strategy, that Russia may still view NATO as a threat to Russian security and as a
potential source of conflict in the region.
Others argue, however, that regardless of Russia’s rhetoric, “Russia’s theater nuclear weapons are
not ... destabilizing.” Even if modernized, these weapons will not “give Moscow the capability to
alter the strategic landscape.”91 Further, Russian weapons, even with its new military strategy,
may not pose a threat to NATO or U.S. allies. Russia’s doctrine indicates that it would use these
weapons in response to a weak performance by its conventional forces in an ongoing conflict.
Since it would be unlikely for NATO to be involved in a conventional conflict with Russia, it
would also be unlikely for Russian weapons to find targets in NATO nations. This does not,
however, preclude their use in other conflicts along Russia’s periphery. As Russian documents
indicate, Russia could use these weapons if its national survival were at stake.
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National
Security Policy
The Bush Administration argued, after the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, that the United States
had reduced its reliance on nuclear weapons by increasing the role of missile defenses and
precision conventional weapons in the U.S. deterrent posture. At the same time, though, the
Administration indicated that the United States would acquire and maintain those capabilities that
it needed to deter and defeat any nation with the potential to threaten the United States,
particularly if the potential adversary possessed weapons of mass destruction. It noted that these
90 William J. Perry, Chairman and James R. Schlesinger, Vice Chairman, America’s Strategic Posture, The Final
Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, Washington, DC, April 2009, p.
21, http://www.usip.org/files/America's_Strategic_Posture_Auth_Ed.pdf.
91 Robert Joseph, “Nuclear Weapons and Regional Deterrence,” in Larson, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger,
editors, Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons: Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute
for National Security Studies, July 2001. pp. 90-92.
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new, threatening capabilities could include hardened and deeply buried targets and, possibly,
bunkers holding chemical or biological weapons. It indicated that the United States would seek to
develop the capabilities to destroy these types of facilities.
Using a similar construct, the Obama Administration, in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, also
indicated that the United States would reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. regional
deterrence strategies by increasing its reliance on missile defenses and precision conventional
weapons. Unlike the Bush Administration, however, the Obama Administration did not seek to
acquire new nuclear weapons capabilities or to extend U.S. nuclear deterrence to threats from
nations armed with chemical or biological weapons. It stated that it would not consider the use of
nuclear weapons in response to conventional, chemical, or biological attack if the attacking nation
were in compliance with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations. Instead, in such circumstances,
the United States would deter and respond to attacks with missile defenses and advanced
conventional weapons. In addition, the Administration announced that it planned to retire the
Navy’s nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles, which had been part of the U.S. extended
deterrent to allies in Asia. Nevertheless, the Administration pledged to retain and modernize the
B-61 warheads, carried by U.S. tactical fighters and bombers; these are also a part of the U.S.
extended deterrent.
Some have questioned the wisdom of this change in policy. They recognize that the United States
would only threaten the use of nuclear weapons in the most extreme circumstances, but they
argue that, by taking these weapons “off the table” in some contingencies, the United States might
allow some adversaries to conclude that they could threaten the United States without fear of an
overwhelming response.92 The Obama Administration argued, however, that although it was
taking the nuclear option off the table in some cases, this change would not undermine the U.S.
ability to deter attacks from non-nuclear nations because the United States maintained the
capability to respond to attacks from these nations with overwhelming conventional force.
According to Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher, “we retain the prospect of using
devastating conventional force to deter and respond to any aggression, especially if they were to
use chemical or biological weapons. No one should doubt our resolve to hold accountable those
responsible for such aggression, whether those giving the orders or carrying them out. Deterrence
depends on the credibility of response. A massive and potential conventional response to nonnuclear
aggression is highly credible.”93
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in NATO Policy and
Alliance Strategy
Many analysts have questioned whether the United States needs to continue to deploy nuclear
weapons in Europe, 20 years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and demise of the Soviet
Union. During the Cold War, these weapons were a part of NATO’s effort to offset the
conventional superiority of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. With the demise of the
Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet-era military, this role is no longer relevant. Most
analysts agree that, at the present time, NATO conventional forces are far superior to those of
92 Statement of Rep. Buck McKeon, ranking Member, U.S. Congress, House Armed Services, U.S. Nuclear Weapons
Policy, Hearing, 111th Cong., 2nd sess., April 14, 2010.
93 Statement of Ellen O. Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. U.S.
Congress, Senate Armed Services, The Nuclear Posture Review, 111th Cong., 2nd sess., April 22, 2010.
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Russia. However, NATO policy still views nonstrategic nuclear weapons as a deterrent to any
potential adversary, and they also serve as a link among the NATO nations, with bases in several
nations and shared responsibility for nuclear policy planning and decision-making. They also still
serve as a visible reminder of the U.S. extended deterrent and assurance of its commitment to the
defense of its allies. But, if the United States and its allies agree that this assurance can be
provided with either conventional capabilities or strategic nuclear weapons, the need for forward
basing in Europe may diminish.
The United States, its allies, and analysts outside government engaged in a heated debate over the
role of and need for U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe in the months leading
up to the completion of NATO’s Strategic Concept in November 2010. In early 2010, political
leaders from several NATO nations—including Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, and Norway—called for the United States to remove these weapons from Europe.
They argued that these weapons served no military purpose in Europe, and that their removal
would demonstrate NATO’s commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, a
vision supported by President Obama in a speech he delivered in April 2009.94 Those who sought
the weapons’ removal also argued that NATO could meet the political goals of shared nuclear
responsibility in other ways, and that the United States could extend deterrence and ensure the
security of its allies in Europe with conventional weapons, missile defenses, and longer-range
strategic nuclear weapons.95 Moreover, some argue, because these weapons play no military or
political role in Europe, they no longer serve as a symbol of alliance solidarity and cooperation.96
Others, however, including some officials in newer NATO nations, have argued that U.S.
nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe not only remain relevant militarily, in some
circumstances, but that they are an essential indicator of the U.S. commitment to NATO security
and solidarity. Some analysts have noted that some of the newer NATO allies, such as Poland and
the Baltic states, may feel threatened by Russia and its arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons
and that they would view the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons as a change in the U.S. and
NATO commitment to their security.97
NATO foreign ministers addressed the issue of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons during their
meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, in April 2010. At this meeting, the allies sought to balance the views
of those nations who sought NATO agreement on the removal of the weapons and those who
argued that these weapons were still relevant to their security and to NATO’s solidarity. At the
conclusion of the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States was not
opposed to reductions in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, but that the removal of
these weapons should be linked to a reduction in the number of Russian nonstrategic nuclear
weapons.98 Moreover, according to a NATO spokesman, the foreign ministers had agreed that no
94 Kent Harris, “NATO Allies Want U.S. Nuclear Weapons out of Europe,” Stars and Stripes, European Edition,
March 3, 2010. See, also, “Allied Bid for Obama to Remove U.S. European Nuclear Stockpile,” AFP, February 20,
2010;
95 Oliver Thranert, U.S. Nuclear Forces In Europe to Zero? Yes, But Not Yet, Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, Proliferation Analysis, Washington, DC, December 10, 2008. See, also, Wolfgang Ischinger and Ulrich Weisser,
“ANTO and the Nuclear Umbrella,” New York Times, February 16, 2010.
96 Ian Davis and Oliver Meier, Don't Mention the Cold War: Lord Robertson’s Basil Fawlty Moment, NATO Watch,
Berlin, February 12, 2010.
97 Franklin Miller, George Robertson, and Kori Schake, Germany Opens Pandora’s Box, Centre for European Reform,
Briefing Note, London, February 2010, p. 3.
98 “U.S. ties Removal of European Nukes to Russian Arms Cuts,” Global Security Newswire, April 23, 2010.
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nuclear weapons would be removed from Europe unless all 28 member states of NATO agreed.
This view is shared by the senior statesmen who served on a group of experts that evaluated
NATO strategy and doctrine in the months prior to the drafting of the new Strategic Concept.
They agreed that a decision to withdraw or reduce the number of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe
should be made “by the NATO alliance as a whole in consultation with Russia.”99
Some also question whether the United States and NATO might benefit from the removal of these
weapons from bases in Europe for safety and security reasons. An Air Force Review of nuclear
surety and security practices, released in early 2008, identified potential security concerns for
U.S. weapons stored at some bases in Europe.100 The problems were evident at some of the
national bases, where the United States stores nuclear weapons for use by the host nation’s own
aircraft, but not at U.S. air bases in Europe. The review noted that “host nation security at
nuclear-capable units varies from country to country” and that most bases do not meet DOD’s
security requirements. Some analysts have suggested that, in response to these concerns, the
United States might consolidate its nuclear weapons at a smaller number of bases in Europe.101
Moreover, another recent review of the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise found that U.S. European
Command (USEUCOM), which was once the “principal advocate for nuclear weapons in
Europe,” no longer advocates for these weapons and no longer recognizes a political role for
these weapons in NATO. According to this study, officials at USEUCOM have argued that an
“over-the-horizon” capability, weapons deployed outside of Europe, could be just as credible as a
deterrent to attack on NATO.102
Some argue that reducing or eliminating U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe would not only address
the Air Force’s operational and security costs associated with their deployment, but also could
serve as a signal to Russia of NATO’s intentions to address Russia’s perception of the threat from
NATO. This, in turn, might encourage Russia to accept negotiated limits or transparency
measures on its nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Some also believe that a NATO “step away” from
these weapons would encourage Russia to reduce its reliance on nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
However, the authors of the Task Force study cited above hold a different view. They argue that
U.S. nuclear weapons in NATO remain “a pillar of NATO unity.” They argue that these weapons
“convey the will of multiple allied countries, creating real uncertainty for any country that might
contemplate seeking political or military advantage through the threat or use of weapons of mass
destruction against the Alliance.”103 Removing these weapons from Europe would, therefore, do
more to undermine NATO’s political unity and military security than it would to encourage
Russia to reduce or contain its nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
99 Martin Matishak, “NATO Must Decide on Removing U.S. Tactical Nukes, Albright Says,” Global Security
Newswire, May 21, 2010. For the full text of the report from the group of experts see, North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement, Analysis and Recommendations of the Group of
Experts on a New Strategic Concept for NATO, May 2010, http://www.nato.int/strategic-concept/expertsreport.pdf.
100 Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures, February 8, 2008.
101 Kristensen, Hans. USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Weapons Sites in Europe Do Not Meet U.S. Security
Requirements. Federation of American Scientist, Strategic Security Blog. June 19, 2008. http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/
2008/06/usaf-report-%e2%80%9cmost%e2%80%9d-nuclear-weapon-sites-in-europe-do-not-meet-us-securityrequirements.
php#more-245
102 Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DOD Nuclear Weapons Management, Phase II: Review of the
DOD Nuclear Missions, Washington, DC, December 2008, p. 59.
103 Ibid. p. 14.
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The Relationship Between Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons and U.S.
Nonproliferation Policy
The George W. Bush Administration stated that the U.S. nuclear posture adopted after the 2002
NPR, along with the research into the development of new types of nuclear warheads, would
contribute to U.S. efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. It
argued that, by creating a more credible threat against the capabilities of nations that seek these
weapons, the U.S. policy would deter their acquisition or deployment. It also reinforced the value
of the U.S. extended deterrent to allies in Europe and Japan, thus discouraging them from
acquiring their own nuclear weapons.104
Critics of the Bush Administration’s policy questioned whether the United States needed new
nuclear weapons to deter the acquisition or use of WMD by other nations; as was noted above,
they claim that U.S. conventional weapons can achieve this objective. Further, many analysts
claimed that the U.S. policy would actually spur proliferation, encouraging other countries to
acquire their own WMD. Specifically, they noted that U.S. plans and programs could reinforce
the view that nuclear weapons have military utility. If the world’s only conventional superpower
needs more nuclear weapons to maintain its security, then it would be difficult for the United
States to argue that other nations could not also benefit from these weapons. Such nations could
also argue that nuclear weapons would serve their security interests. Consequently, according to
the Bush Administration’s critics, the United States might ignite a new arms race if it pursued
new types of nuclear weapons to achieve newly defined battlefield objectives.105 The Bush
Administration countered this argument by noting that few nations acquire nuclear weapons in
response to U.S. nuclear programs. They do so either to address their own regional security
challenges, or to counter U.S. conventional superiority.106
The Obama Administration, in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, set out a different relationship
between U.S. nuclear weapons policy and nonproliferation policy. The Bush Administration had
indicated that a policy where the United States argued that it might use of nuclear weapons
against non-nuclear nations would discourage these nations from acquiring or using weapons of
mass destruction. In other words, they could be attacked with nuclear weapons whether or not
they had nuclear weapons of their own. The Obama Administration, however, argued that its
adjustment to the U.S. declaratory policy—where it indicated that it would not use U.S. nuclear
weapons to threaten or attack nations who did not have nuclear weapons and were in compliance
with their nonproliferation obligations—would discourage their acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Nations that did not yet have nuclear weapons would know that they could be added to the U.S.
nuclear target list if they acquired them. And others, like Iran and North Korea, who were already
pursuing nuclear weapons, would know that, if they disband their programs, they could be
removed from the U.S. nuclear target list.
104 An Assessment of the Impact of Repeal of the Prohibition on Low Yield Warhead Development on the Ability of the
United States to Achieve its Nonproliferation Objectives, jointly submitted to the Congress by the Secretary of State,
Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Energy, March 2004, p. 4.
105 “The long term consequences of developing new nuclear weapons might well be to push Iran, North Korea, and
other states to work harder and faster in developing and manufacturing their own nukes.” See William Arkin, “New
Nukes? No Way,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2003.
106 An Assessment of the Impact of Repeal of the Prohibition on Low Yield Warhead Development on the Ability of the
United States to Achieve its Nonproliferation Objectives, jointly submitted to the Congress by the Secretary of State,
Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Energy, March 2004, p. 4.
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The debate over the relationship between U.S. nuclear weapons and nonproliferation policy has
also focused on extended deterrence and the assurances the United States provides to its allies.
Many analysts have argued that, if these allies were not confident in the reliability and credibility
of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, they may feel compelled to acquire their own nuclear weapons. This
view is evident among analysts who express concerns that Turkey, in particular, with its
proximity to Iran, might pursue its own nuclear weapons if the United States were to withdraw its
tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.107 Others, however, argue that extended deterrence rests on
more than just U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and that the United States would not
undermine confidence in the U.S. commitment if it reduced its reliance on nonstrategic nuclear
weapons.
Arms Control Options
The George W. Bush Administration did not adopt any new policies to address the potential risks
created by Russia’s continued deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It did not address
these weapons in the negotiations on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, although Bush
Administration officials did pledge to raise concerns about these weapons in discussions with
their Russian counterparts. However, the Bush Administration appeared to believe that any
concerns about the safety and security of these weapons could be addressed through the ongoing
Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which the United States uses to assist to Russia and other
former Soviet states in improving security and control at nuclear weapons storage facilities.108
They argued, however, that Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons posed no military threat to
stability or security for the United States or its allies, and therefore, required no unilateral or
cooperative responses from the United States.109
Further, some argued that any reciprocal or cooperative effort to address concerns about Russia’s
nonstrategic nuclear weapons, such as negotiated transparency or arms control measures, could
undermine U.S. flexibility and limit U.S. and NATO options for the deployment of nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. Specifically, “pursuing arms control agreements on these weapons might
undercut NATO’s nuclear posture, generating political pressure to withdraw the remaining
weapons.” In addition, “arms control would make problematic the development of new
[nonstrategic nuclear weapons] capabilities that may be required to deter and defend against
today’s threats, and, especially, for the deterrence of rogue states armed with weapons of mass
destruction.”110 Instead, when possible, the Bush Administration pursued unilateral reductions in
U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe.
Some analysts who supported the Bush Administration’s views on nonstrategic nuclear weapons
have recently altered their conclusions. Where before they argued that Russia’s nonstrategic
107 Franklin Miller, George Robertson, and Kori Schake, Germany Opens Pandora’s Box, Centre for European Reform,
Briefing Note, London, February 2010, p. 3.
108 For details on this program, see CRS Report RL31957, Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance: U.S.
Programs in the Former Soviet Union, by Amy F. Woolf.
109 An official with the Bush Administration’s National Security Council staff has stated that “Russia’s theater nuclear
weapons, even if modernized, will not give Moscow the capability to alter the strategic landscape.” He further noted
that “Russia’s theater nuclear weapons are not... destabilizing.” See Robert Joseph, “Nuclear Weapons and Regional
Deterrence,” In Larson, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors, Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons:
Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for National Security Studies, July 2001, p. 90.
110 Ibid., p. 92.
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nuclear weapons did not pose a threat to the United States or its allies, they now contend that
Russia’s weapons, and particularly the imbalance in numbers between Russian and U.S. weapons,
can pose a threat to U.S. allies in Europe. And where before they argued that the two sides should
not pursue arms control solutions to address this imbalance, they now argue that any future arms
control agreement between the United States and Russia should make reductions in Russia’s
nonstrategic nuclear weapons a top priority.111
Concerns about the disparity between the numbers of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear
weapons have dominated recent calls for the inclusion of these weapons in future arms control
agreements. But these concerns could reflect political, rather than military, calculations. The
United States and Russia have never employed their nonstrategic nuclear weapons to counter, or
balance, the nonstrategic nuclear weapons of the other side. For NATO during the Cold War and
for Russia in more recent years, these weapons have served to counter perceived weaknesses and
an imbalance in conventional forces. As a result, there has been little interest, until recently, in
calculating or creating a balance in the numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.112
Some who have expressed a concern about the numerical imbalance in nonstrategic nuclear
weapons argue that this imbalance will become more important as the United States and Russia
reduce their numbers of strategic nuclear weapons. They fear that NATO nations located near
Russia’s borders may feel threatened or intimidated by Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
They assert that Russia’s advantage in the numbers of these weapons, when combined with a
reduction in U.S. strategic forces, could convince these nations that Russia was the rising power
in the region, and that they should, therefore, accede to Russia’s political or economic pressure.
Others, however, have questioned this logic. They agree that Russia’s ability to intimidate, and
possibly attack, NATO nations on its periphery may be related to the capabilities of Russia’s
conventional forces and the existence of Russia’s nuclear forces. But this ability would exist
whether Russia had dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons in the region. And NATO’s ability to
resist Russian pressure and support vulnerable allies would be related more to its political
cohesion and overall military capabilities than to the precise number of nuclear weapons that
were deployed on European territory. Moreover, some note that, in spite of Russia’s advantage in
the aggregate number on nonstrategic nuclear weapons, many of Russia’s weapons may be
deployed at bases closer to its border with China than its borders with NATO nations, so many of
these weapons should not count in the balance at all.
Regardless, the concerns about the disparity in numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons have led
officials in NATO and the United States to insist that reductions in U.S. numbers of these
weapons in Europe must occur in conjunction with reductions in the numbers of Russia’s
nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Further, while the United States has often reduced these weapons
through unilateral measures in the past, most official statements, and many analysts outside
government, now contend that these reductions should occur through negotiated arms control
agreements with Russia.
111 The New Deterrent Working Group, U.S. Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Getting it Right, White Paper,
Washington, DC, July 2009, pp. 47-49.
112 For a discussion of the possible politics of the recent concerns about this issue, see Hans M. Kristensen, Non-
Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Federation of American Scientists, Special Report No. 3, Washington, D.C., May 2012,
pp. 40-41, http://www.fas.org/_docs/Non_Strategic_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.
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Increase Transparency
Many analysts argue that the United States and Russia should, at a minimum, provide each other
with information about their numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and the status (i.e.,
deployed, stored or awaiting dismantlement) of these weapons. According to one such article, “a
crucial first step ... would be to ... agree on total transparency, verification, and the right to
monitor changes and movement of the arsenal.”113 Such information might help each side to
monitor the other’s progress in complying with the PNIs; it could also help resolve questions and
concerns that might come up about the status of these weapons or their vulnerability to theft or
misuse. The United States and Russia have discussed transparency measures for nuclear weapons
in the past, in a separate forum in the early 1990s, and as a part of their discussions the
framework for a START III Treaty in the late 1990s. They failed to reach agreement on either
occasion. Russia, in particular, has seemed unwilling to provide even basic information about its
stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Some in the United States have resisted as well,
arguing, in particular, that public discussions about the numbers and locations of U.S. nuclear
weapons in Europe could increase pressure on the United States to withdraw these weapons.
Expand Threat Reduction Assistance
In the early 1990s, as a part of the early efforts of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the
United States provided Russia with assistance in transporting nuclear weapons back to Russia
from other former Soviet republics. It has also provided Russia with assistance in improving
security at its central storage facilities for nuclear weapons. However, much of this assistance
focused on the warheads removed from strategic nuclear weapons, rather than nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. Many nonstrategic nuclear weapons remain at storage areas near former
deployment areas, and concerns remain about security at these facilities. The United States could
expand its threat reduction assistance to these sites, so that it could build confidence in the safety
and security of these weapons. Under CTR, however, the United States usually only provides
security assistance at sites that store nuclear weapons that have been retired from the deployed
force; it has not provided funding for sites that can support the weapons’ continued deployment.
Moreover, Russia may not accept assistance at these sites, particularly if it were not permitted
reciprocal access to U.S. weapons storage sites.
Negotiate a Formal Treaty
Many analysts have suggested that the United States and Russia negotiate a formal treaty to put
limits and restrictions on each nation’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons. This was a central theme in
the debate over the New START Treaty in late 2010. Not only did Members of the Senate call on
the Obama Administration to pursue such negotiations, Administration officials noted often that
the New START Treaty was just a first step, that the United States and Russia would pursue limits
on nonstrategic nuclear weapons in talks on a subsequent agreement.114 In April 2009, when
Presidents Obama and Medvedev outlined their approach to nuclear arms control, they indicated
that arms control would be a step-by-step process, with a replacement for the 1991 START Treaty
113 Catherine M. Kelleher and Scott L. Warren, “Getting to Zero Starts Here: Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” Arms Control
Today, October 2009, p. 11.
114 Peter Baker. “Smaller Arms Next for U.S. and Russia,” New York Times. December 25, 2010. p. 4. See, also, Rose
Gottemoeller and Dr. James Miller, Remarks at New START Treaty Discussion at the Brookings Institution, U.S.
Department of State, Washington, DC, December 7, 2010, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/152658.htm.
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coming first, but a more comprehensive treaty that might include deeper cuts in all types of
warheads, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons, following in the future.
Negotiations on a treaty to limit nonstrategic nuclear weapons could be complex, difficult, and
very time-consuming.115 Given the large disparity in the numbers of U.S. and Russian
nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and given the different roles these weapons play in U.S. and
Russian security strategy, it may be difficult to craft an agreement that not only reduces the
numbers of weapons in an equitable way but also addresses the security concerns addressed by
the retention of these weapons. A treaty that imposed an equal ceiling on each sides’ numbers of
deployed nonstrategic weapons might appear equitable, but it would require sharp reductions in
Russia’s forces with little impact on U.S. forces, since Russia maintains more than 2,000 of these
weapons while the United States has fewer than 200. A treaty that required each side to reduce its
forces by an equal percentage would have a similar result, requiring far deeper reductions on
Russia’s part.116
Some analysts view this outcome as necessary, because Russia possesses so many more of these
weapons than the United States, but Russia may be unwilling to agree to such limits without
similar restraints on U.S. weapons. At the very least, Russia may insist that the United States
remove all its nonstrategic nuclear weapons from Europe before it even considers reductions in its
own systems.117 Moreover, several Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Lavrov and
Deputy Prime Minister Ryabkov, have indicated that it is too soon to move forward on
negotiations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons; they have argued that these talks should wait until
the United States and Russia pursue the implementation of the New START Treaty.118
Even if the United States and Russia could agree on the depth of reductions to impose on these
weapons, they may not be able to agree on which weapons would fall under the limit. For the
United States, it may be relatively straightforward to identify the affected weapons—the limit
could apply to the gravity bombs deployed in Europe and any spare weapons that may be stored
in the United States. Russia, however, has many different types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons,
including some that could be deployed on naval vessels, some that would be delivered by naval
aircraft, and some that would be deployed with ground forces. Moreover, while many of these
weapons might be deployed with units in western Russia, near Europe, others are located to the
east, and would deploy with troops in a possible conflict with China.
To address these problems, some analysts have suggested that the limits in the next arms control
treaty cover all types of nuclear warheads—warheads deployed on strategic-range delivery
vehicles, warheads deployed with tactical-range delivery vehicles, and nondeployed warheads
held in storage.119 The Obama Administration has reportedly adopted this approach, and is
115 Walter Pincus, “START Has Passed, But Tactical Arms Remain an Issue,” Washington Post, December 28, 2010, p.
11. See, also, Peter Baker. “Smaller Arms Next for U.S. and Russia,” New York Times. December 25, 2010, p. 4.
116 A proposal of this type can be found in Franklin Miller, George Robertson, and Kori Schake, Germany Opens
Pandora’s Box, Centre for European Reform, Briefing Note, London, February 2010, p. 3.
117 Robert Gromoll and Dunbar Lockwood, “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons: Defining U.S. Objectives,” in Larson,
Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors. Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons. Obstacles and
Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for National Security Studies, July 2001, p. 82.
118 “Too Soon To Discuss Tactical Nuclear Arms With USA - Russian Senior Official,” Ria-Novosti, January 29, 2011.
119 See, for example, Steven Pifer, “After New START: What Next?,” Arms Control Today, December 2010.
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studying the contours of a treaty that would limit strategic, nonstrategic, and nondeployed nuclear
warheads.120
This type of agreement would allow each side to determine, for itself, the size and mix of its
forces, within the limits on total warheads.121 For example, Russia might choose to keep a greater
number of warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons, while the United States could keep a
greater number of nondeployed warheads that had been removed from its strategic nuclear
delivery vehicles. In addition, the limit set in the treaty could be low enough to produce
reductions that addressed each side’s concerns with the other’s arsenal. Russia might reduce its
numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, easing concerns about both the disparity between U.S.
and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and the potential role these weapons might play in a
conflict between Russia and its neighbors. The United States might reduce its number of stored,
nondeployed weapons. This could ease Russia’s concerns about the U.S. ability to exceed the
limits in the New START treaty by returning these warheads to deployed systems in a short
amount of time.122
While this type of comprehensive agreement may seem to provide a solution to the imbalance
between U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons, it may be more attractive in theory than
in practice. It is not clear that, once the parties move beyond limits on just their deployed strategic
weapons, they will be able to limit the scope of the treaty in this way. Each side has its own list of
weapons that it finds threatening; each may seek to include these in a more comprehensive
agreement. For example, Russian officials, including the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, have
stated that a future arms control agreement should also include limits on missile defenses,
strategic-range weapons that carry conventional warheads, and possibly weapons in space.
Minister Lavrov stated, specifically, that
it is impossible to discuss only one aspect of the problem at strategic parity and stability
negotiations held in the modern world. It is impossible to ignore such aspects as non-nuclear
strategic armaments, on which the United States is actively working, plans to deploy
armaments in space, which we oppose actively, the wish to build global missile defense
systems, and the imbalance of conventional armaments. It is possible to hold further
negotiations only with due account of all these factors….”123
The United States has no interest in including these types of limits in the next agreement. Hence,
it is not clear that the two sides will be able to agree on which issues and what weapons systems
to include in the next round of arms control negotiations.
In addition, the parties might find it difficult to devise and agree on a monitoring regime that
would help them verify compliance with a treaty that limited strategic, nonstrategic, and
nondeployed nuclear warheads. In strategic arms control treaties, the parties monitor and count
120 “New START Follow-Up Talks Seen Addressing All U.S., Russian Nuclear Arms,” Global Security Newswire,
February 13, 2012.
121 “The only way to get a real handle on NSNF security, and the relationship of these weapons to strategic arms control
and the real military threats they pose (while maintaining some capability) is the warhead control route.” See Joseph F.
Pilat, “Controlling Nonstrategic Nuclear Forces,” in Larson, Jeffrey A. and Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors, Controlling
Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons: Obstacles and Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for National Security
Studies, July 2001, p. 243.
122 Steven Pifer, “After New START: What Next?,” Arms Control Today, December 2010,
http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2010_12/%20Pifer.
123 “State Duma Passes New START Ratification Bill in Second Reading,” Itar-Tass, January 14, 2010.
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deployed weapons primarily by counting the delivery vehicles—land-based missiles, submarinelaunched
ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers—that are large enough to locate and identify with
satellites and other remote monitoring systems. But this type of system probably would not work
with nonstrategic nuclear weapons, as each side uses dual-capable launchers—like fighter
aircraft—to deliver these weapons. Instead, the parties would probably have to identify and count
the warheads directly. The same would be true if they were to limit nondeployed warheads in
storage. Yet neither the United States nor Russia may be willing to allow monitoring equipment
or inspectors to have access to their warhead storage areas if this revealed sensitive information
about their nuclear weapons programs.
Moreover, although President Medvedev agreed, in April 2009, that the United States and Russia
should pursue more arms control reductions after completing New START, Russia may have little
interest in limits on nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Russian officials have denied that their
weapons pose a safety and security problem, and they still consider these weapons essential to
Russian military strategy and national security. Hence, they may consider a treaty limiting these
weapons to be more of a long-term project than a next step in arms control. For example, in early
January 2011, Foreign Minister Lavrov stated that “before talking about any further steps in the
sphere of nuclear disarmament, it’s necessary to fulfill the New Start agreement.”124 Since the
United States and Russia have agreed to implement New START over seven years, this could
delay talks on nonstrategic nuclear weapons until the latter part of this decade.
Hence, even though there is widespread interest among U.S. officials and analysts in the
negotiation of a treaty that would limit nonstrategic nuclear weapons, such an agreement may not
be completed for many years.125 Nevertheless, some analysts believe that Russia might be
convinced to take some steps to at least increase transparency, improve security, and possibly
reduce deployments, if the United States and NATO took concrete steps to reduce the number of
U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.126 As a result, some analysts have argued that the United States
and Russia should begin the process of reducing their nonstrategic nuclear weapons without a
treaty. They could, instead, rely on unilateral, reciprocal steps like those employed by President
George H. W. Bush and President Gorbachev in the waning months of the Cold War.
124 Richard Boudreaux, “Russia Says Next U.S. Arms Talks Must Include Others,” Wall Street Journal, January 14,
2011, p. 8.
125 Support for such an agreement is not universal. According to Baker Spring, at the Heritage Foundation, the United
States should not get into a negotiation on these weapons because, with the disparity in favor of Russia, the United
States “has no cards to play.” See Peter Baker, “Smaller Arms Next for U.S. and Russia,” New York Times, December
25, 2010, p. 4.
126 See, for example, Catherine M. Kelleher and Scott L. Warren, “Getting to Zero Starts Here: Tactical Nuclear
Weapons,” Arms Control Today, October 2009, p. 11. See, also Miles Pomper, William Potter, and Nikolai Sokov,
Reducing and Regulating Tactical (Nonstrategic) Nuclear Weapons in Europe, The James Martin Center for
Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, December 2009.
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
Congressional Research Service 36

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