Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
Updated July 29, 2008
Amy F. Woolf
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union both deployed
thousands of “nonstrategic” nuclear weapons that were intended to be used in support
of troops in the field during a conflict. These 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. At the end of the
1980s, before the demise of the Soviet Union, each nation still had thousands of these
weapons deployed with their troops in the field, aboard naval vessels, and on aircraft.
In 1991, both the United States and Soviet Union announced that they would
withdraw most and eliminate many of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The
United States now retains approximately 1,100 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, with
a few hundred deployed with aircraft in Europe and the remaining stored in the
United States. Estimates vary, but experts believe Russia still has between 3,000 and
8,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its arsenal. The Bush
Administration has not announced any further reductions in U.S. nonstrategic nuclear
weapons; to the contrary, it has indicated that nuclear weapons remain essential to
U.S. national security interests. In addition, Russia has 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, and the likelihood that either nation might use
these weapons in a regional contingency with a non-nuclear nation; questions about
the role that these weapons play in NATO policy and whether there is a continuing
need for the United States to deploy these weapons at bases overseas; and questions
about the relationship between nonstrategic nuclear weapons and U.S.
nonproliferation policy, particularly whether a U.S. policy that views these weapons
as a militarily useful tool might encourage other nations to acquire their own nuclear
weapons, or at least complicate U.S. policy to discourage such acquisition.
Some argue that these weapons do not create any problems and the United
States should not alter its policy. Others, however, 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, possibly
by negotiating an arms control treaty that would limit these weapons and allow for
increased transparency in monitoring their deployment and elimination. The second
session of 110th Congress may review some of these proposals.
This report will be updated as needed.
In troduction ......................................................1
The Distinction Between Strategic and Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons........4
Definition by Observable Capabilities..........................5
Definition by Exclusion.....................................6
U.S. and Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons..........................7
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War..............7
Strategy and Doctrine.......................................7
Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War............8
Strategy and Doctrine.......................................8
The 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives...........................9
Soviet and Russian Initiatives...............................11
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War...............12
Strategy and Doctrine......................................12
Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War............15
Strategy and Doctrine......................................15
Changing the Focus of the Debate................................18
Issues for Congress...............................................19
Safety and Security of Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons.....20
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s National
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in NATO Policy and
The Relationship Between Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons and
U.S. Nonproliferation Policy............................22
Reduce Reliance on Nuclear Weapons........................24
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
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.
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 — have 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 to 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 the1987 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 December1991 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 address and solve the problems associated with nonstrategic nuclear
weapons. Moreover, 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 implementing the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty (START) and negotiating 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 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 also sought a more detailed accounting of Russia’s weapons in legislation
passed in the late 1990s. Analysts have 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. Many analysts
outside government have argued that the United States and Russia should pursue a
formal arms control treaty, possibly including other nuclear weapons states, to reduce
and eliminate these weapons.
These weapons have returned to the public eye in recent months. In early 2007,
Russia threatened to withdraw from the INF Treaty in response to U.S. plans to
deploy a ballistic missile defense radar in the Czech republic and interceptor missiles
in Poland.1 Some analysts speculated that the Russian desire for relief from the INF
Treaty had as much to do with its growing interest in deploying a new generation of
medium-range missiles as it did with the U.S. missile defense plans. Some even
suggested that the international community explore the possible extension of the INF
Treaty to other nations, to address Russia’s growing concerns with emerging missile
The Bush Administration has not, however, adopted a policy of reducing or
eliminating nonstrategic nuclear weapons. When it announced the results of its
nuclear posture review 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. It also did not discuss these weapons
with Russia during arms control negotiations in 2002. Instead, the Strategic
Offensive Reductions Treaty (Moscow Treaty) signed in May 2003 limits only the
1 Finn, Peter. “Anti-missile Plan by U.S. Strains Ties with Russia.” Washington Post,
February 21, 2007.
2 Ryan, Kevin. “Expand or Scrap Missile Ban.” Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2007.
number of operationally deployed warheads on strategic nuclear weapons. Reports
indicate, however, that the United States has redeployed and withdrawn some of its
nonstrategic nuclear weapons from bases in Greece, Germany, and the United
Further, after the NPR, the Bush Administration sought funding for a study to
determine whether the United States could modify an existing nuclear weapon to
improve its capability as a “robust nuclear earth penetrator” — a weapon that could
attack and destroy hardened and deeply buried targets. The Bush Administration
argued that such a weapon would enhance the U.S. nuclear deterrent and improve
U.S. security by improving the U.S. ability to hold at risk key assets of emerging
adversaries. However, in the face of strong congressional opposition, the
Administration reportedly withdrew its request for funding during the FY2006
authorization and appropriations process.
Many analysts outside government, and some Members of Congress, have
argued that the Bush Administration’s policies not only ignore the potential risks
from Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons, but could also “ignite a new arms race”
by raising the perceived utility of nuclear weapons. This report will review the
debate over the implications of the Administration’s policy in a later section. It is
worth noting at this point, however, that the Bush Administration’s policy represents
a stark reversal from trends and debates during the late 1990s. At that time, debates
in the nuclear weapons policy community focused on whether the United States
should retain its relatively small arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons (when
compared with the size of the Russia arsenal) or offer to reduce those weapons as a
part of an effort to reduce and secure the remaining Russian arsenal. The Bush
Administration initially quieted discussions about nonstrategic nuclear weapons arms
control and, instead, began to consider how the United States could maintain or
enhance its own stockpile of these weapons while discouraging the acquisition of
nuclear weapons by other nations.
In the past few years, in response to the Administration’s emphasis on the role
that U.S. nuclear weapons can play in deterring or defeating nations armed with
weapons of mass destruction, and in response to requests for funding for studies on
new nuclear weapons, Congress had begun to review and debate the Administration’s
plans for U.S. nuclear weapons. These debates have not focused on the difference
between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons or on the particular concerns that
have been raised about nonstrategic nuclear weapons in the past decade. Instead,
they have explored, in greater detail, Administration requests for funding for research
into new types of nuclear weapons. Congress has also required that the next
Administration conduct a new review of U.S. nuclear weapons posture and programs
in the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill (H.Rept. 110-477). As the United States
studies possible changes to its nuclear force structure that might include the
deployment of new nuclear weapons, nonstrategic nuclear weapons may again rise
3 Kristensen, Hans. U.S. Nuclear Weapons Withdrawn from the United Kingdom.
Federation of American Scientists, Strategic Security Blog. June 26, 2008.
[ h t t p : / / www.f a s.or g/ bl og/ ssp/ 2008/ 06/ us-nucl ear -weapons-wi t hdr awn-f r o m-t h e -u n i t e d-
to a higher profile. Congress might then pursue a broader debate about nonstrategic
nuclear weapons and consider further measures to either broaden or narrow the role
of these weapons in U.S. national security policy.
In addition, Congress has 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 are 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.
Further, H.R. 5017, a Bill to ensure implementation of the 9/11 Commission Report
recommendations, included a provision (Sec. 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 authorized
$5 million for the U.S. 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 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.
This report provides basic information about U.S. and Russian nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. It begins with a brief discussion of 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, eliminate, and, more recently, augment their
forces. The report reviews the issues that have been raised with regards to U.S. and
Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons, essentially identifying the “problems” many
associate with the continued deployment of these weapons. It concludes with a
review of policy options, or “solutions” for the preceding problems, that might be
explored by Congress, the United States, Russia, and other nations.
The Distinction Between Strategic and Nonstrategic
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,4 a strategic mission is:
4 This dictionary, and these definitions can be found on the DOD website at
[http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/j el/doddict/index.html ].
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 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
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 submarine-launched
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 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 may develop the capability to
use their longer-range “strategic” systems to deliver warheads to a full range of
strategic and tactical targets, even if longstanding 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
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, and the Moscow
Treaty in signed in 2002. 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
Bush Administration, has also stated that the United States will maintain those
capabilities in its nuclear arsenal that it might need counter the capabilities of
potential adversaries. The Administration does not, however, identify whether those
capabilities will be resident on strategic or nonstrategic nuclear weapons. That
distinction will reflect the nature of the target, not the yield or delivery vehicle of the
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.5 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.”6 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’7
response to military aggression.
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
5 “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.
6 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “The Alliance’s Strategic Concept,” NATO Office of
Information and Press, Brussels, Belgium, 1991, para. 8.
7 Ibid, para. 55.
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.8 These
reductions occurred, for the most part, 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.9
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 short-range ballistic missile;
continuing production of the nuclear-armed version of the Tomahawk sea-launches
cruise missile; and developing a new nuclear depth/strike bomb for U.S. naval
forces.10 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.11
Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War
Strategy and Doctrine. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union also12
considered nuclear weapons to be instrumental to its military strategy. 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
8 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.
9 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.
10 Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Annual Report to the Congress, Fiscal Year
11 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,
12 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.)
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.13 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 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 “suitcase bombs,” nuclear mines, shells for artillery, short-,
medium, and intermediate 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 of14
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.15 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
13 Ivan Safranchuk, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in the Modern World: A Russian
Perspective,” in Alexander, Brian and Alistair Millar, editors, Tactical Nuclear Weapons
(Washington D.C.: Brassey’s Inc., 2003), p. 53.
14 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 D.C.: Brassey’s Inc., 2003), p. 31.
15 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,
aircraft.16 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,17 which had been deployed on land and at sea, and the
weapons for land-based naval aircraft.18 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
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-1992.19 The warhead dismantlement
process has moved more slowly, taking most of the 1990s to complete for some
weapons, and with some work still to be done on others, but this is due to the limits
on capacity at the Pantex Plant in Texas, where the work is done.
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.20
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
it’s 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
16 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.
17 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, pp 21-22.
18 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.
19 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 22.
20 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.)
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.21 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 1991.22
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 warheads removed from nonstrategic nuclear
weapons.23 These included all warheads from short-range missiles, artillery, and
atomic demolition devices; one-third of the warheads from sea-based nonstrategic
weapons; half the warheads from air-defense interceptors; and half 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 Transcaucusus
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 1992.24
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 the25
field until 1996 and 1997. Furthermore, Russia has been far slower to eliminate the
warheads from these systems than has the United States, with many warheads still
21 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.
22 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 31.
23 For the text of President Yeltsin’s statement, see Larsen and Klingenberger, pp. 284-289.
24 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 22.
25 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
awaiting elimination at the end of the 1990s. 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, however, 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.26
U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War
Strategy and Doctrine. Nonstrategic nuclear weapons have continued to
play a role in U.S. and NATO policy. For the United States, the emphasis has
shifted from a strategy that emphasized the deterrence of an attack from the Soviet
Union and its allies to one that has placed a growing emphasis on the role that
nuclear weapons might play in deterring or responding to regional contingencies that
involved nations other than Russia. 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 proliferation27
(emphasis added). Specifically, the United States maintains the option to use
nuclear weapons in response to attacks with conventional, chemical, or biological
weapons. For example, 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.”28 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 1990s,
that the United States continued to view these weapons as a part of its national
The Bush Administration also emphasized the possible use of nuclear weapons
in regional contingencies in its 2001 nuclear posture review. Further, the
Administration appeared to shift towards a somewhat more explicit approach when
acknowledging that the United States might use nuclear weapons in response to
26 Ivan Safranchik, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in the Modern World: A Russian
Perspective,” in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 62.
27 Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, Annual Report to the President and the Congress,
February 1995, p. 84.
28 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.
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. 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 Administration officials that the Bush
Administration was planning for the tactical, first use of nuclear weapons. The Bush
Administration has never confirmed this view, and, instead, has indicated that it
would not use nuclear weapons in anything other than the most grave circumstances.
For NATO, nonstrategic nuclear weapons have a played a reduced, but
continuing, role in security policy. They have been seen 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. In the Press Communique 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.”29 NATO has also reaffirmed the importance of nuclear
weapons for deterrence. The “New Strategic Concept” signed in April 1999 states
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.”30 NATO had also
emphasized the importance of nuclear weapons in its strategy in 1997, in the
Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security Between the Russian
Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although the NATO
members assured Russia that it had “no intention, no plan, and no reason to deploy
nuclear weapons on the territory of new members,” it 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).”31
Force Structure. Through the late 1990s and into the Bush Administration,
the United States has 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 nuclear-armed sea-launched32
cruise missiles, are held in storage areas in the United States. After the Clinton
29 NATO Press Communique M-DPC/NPG-2(95)117, November 29, 1995, para. 21.
30 The Alliance’s Strategic Concept, approved by the Heads of State and Government
participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington D.C., April 23-24,
31 “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security Between the Russian
Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” signed at Paris, May 27, 1997.
32 “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 Atomic Scientists. November/December
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. The United States has
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 2 of its 4 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 2000.33 Some reports indicate that this number had declined
further, with the withdrawal of the weapons in Greece and at Ramstein Air Base in
Germany between 2001 and 2005. In addition, reports indicate that the United States
has also withdrawn its nuclear weapons from the RAF Lakenheath air base in the
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 has 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.35 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. The alliance has reviewed these deployments and
reaffirmed that the weapons remain an important indicator of alliance unity, with the
sharing of information about the weapons and sharing of responsibility for their
basing serving as an important bond among the members of the alliance.
After completing the NPR, the Bush Administration indicated that the United
States would explore the development of new types of nuclear warheads. It
commissioned a study on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which would have
been a modification of an existing type of nuclear weapon.36 This program was
designed to improve the U.S. capability to attack hardened and deeply buried targets.
The Administration argued that the United States had to improve its capability to
attack these types of targets because many potential adversaries have a significant
number of these facilities, which they could use to protect valued assets such as
weapons stocks and command facilities. The Administration did not identify these
weapons as either “strategic” or “nonstrategic;” such a designation would likely
depend on the intended target for the weapon in the event of a conflict. The
Administration also funded research into Advanced Concepts for nuclear weapons.
33 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, pp. 23.-25
34 Kristensen, Hans. U.S. Nuclear Weapons Withdrawn from the United Kingdom.
Federation of American Scientists, Strategic Security Blog. June 26, 2008.
[ ht t p: / / www.f a s.or g/ bl og/ ssp/ 2008/ 06/ us-nucl ear -weapons-wi t hdr awn-f r om-t h e -u n i t e d-
36 Congress denied funding for this study in the FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L.
This program did not pursue any particular research or identify any new types of
weapons for further study, but many of the Administration’s critics believed it could
be used to develop new types of “low yield” nuclear weapons. Congress eliminated
funding for the Advanced Concepts program in FY2005 and the Robust Nuclear
Earth Penetrator in FY2006.
The Administration and others who supported research into a new earth-
penetrator weapon argued that, by burrowing underground before exploding, these
weapons could not only achieve a higher probability of destroying fortified targets,
but might also do so with lower collateral damage by exploding deeply underground.
According to the Administration, these features would increase their credibility as a
deterrent weapon. Some have also argued that new types of nuclear weapons, such
as highly accurate, low-yield weapons, could be used to attack and destroy stocks of
chemical or biological weapons in their bunkers, again, with lower collateral damage
than the larger, existing types of nuclear weapons. These programs’ critics argue that
these weapons, with their reduced collateral damage, might be more “useable” than
existing nuclear weapons, and, therefore, increase the likelihood that the United
States would resort to nuclear weapons during a conflict. They note that, even with
their earth-penetrating capabilities, these weapons would produce horrific damage
and destruction. Further, they argue that any U.S. attempt to make nuclear weapons
appear more “useable” or to have greater military utility, is likely to undermine U.S.
efforts to convince other nations not to acquire their own nuclear weapons.
The targets for these new types of weapons could be “strategic” in nature,
supporting the military or political infrastructure needed to pursue a conflict, or they
could be more “tactical” in nature, supporting an adversary’s troops or battlefield
formations. Therefore, the question of whether these weapons would be strategic or
nonstrategic would depend on future war plans and targeting options. Yet with the
sharp decline in the numbers and types of delivery vehicles for nonstrategic
warheads, these weapons might be delivered by strategic delivery vehicles, such as
ballistic missiles or bombers, regardless of their targeting objective. Hence, the U.S.
plans for the development of new types of nuclear weapons highlight the
complexities discussed above in defining and identifying nonstrategic nuclear
weapons because, in future scenarios, it may be difficult to tell what a weapon is
intended to attack by the range of its delivery vehicle or the yield of its warhead.
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 revised its national security and military strategy several times during the
weapons.37 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.”38
Analysts have identified several factors that 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 conflict in Chechnya highlighted for many just
how weak Russia’s conventional military forces had become. 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 in the mid-
1990s. Russia 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. Russian officials repeated many of their
concerns about NATO enlargement and new nuclear threats during the latest round
of expansion in 2003 and 2004.
Finally, 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 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.”39
The debate over the role of nuclear weapons in Russia’s national security
strategy 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
37 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.
38 “Russia’s Military Doctrine,” Reprinted in Arms Control Today, May 2000.
39 “2000 Russian National Security Concept,” Nezavisimoye Voennaye Obozreniye, January
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.”40 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.”41
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 pre-
planned, but limited damage.”42 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. Concerns about Russia’s possible reliance on non-
strategic nuclear weapons in regional conflicts returned in early 2007 when, as was
noted earlier, Russia threatened to withdraw from the INF Treaty.
Force Structure. It is extremely 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 the 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 rate43
of 2,000 per year. However, many experts doubt these statements, noting that
40 Martin Nesirky, “Focus: Nuclear-power Russia Wants Tactical Weapons,” Reuters, April
41 David Hoffman, “Kremlin to Bolster Nuclear Stockpile, Government Fears Short-Range
Missiles May Be Inadequate,” Washington Post, April 30, 1999, p. 19.
42 Ivan Safranchik, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in the Modern World: A Russian
Perspective,” in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 54.
43 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.
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 2004.44 Furthermore, in late 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.45 Many analysts and U.S. officials interpreted this
statement as a sharp reversal of Russia’s commitments under the 1991 PNIs.
With consideration for these uncertainties, analysts have estimated that Russia
may still have between 3,000 and 8,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons,
with the lower number reflecting the number of deployed weapons and the higher
number including those weapons that remain in central storage. 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.46 Russia had also reportedly
reduced the number of military bases that could deploy nonstrategic nuclear weapons
by over 250 and had consolidated its storage areas for these weapons, eliminating
about two-thirds of the 500-600 facilities it had operated at the beginning of the
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
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.
44 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 29.
45 Vladimir Isachenkov, “U.S. Nuke Development Concerns Russia,” Interfax, November
46 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.
47 Joshua Handler, in Alexander and Millar, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, p. 30.
The end of the Cold War, however, and the changing international security
environment during the 1990s, renders 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 non-state 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.48 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
Issues for Congress
Although nonstrategic nuclear weapons have not held a high profile in debatesth
over national security or arms control debates, the 111 Congress may still address
issues raised by these weapons in its discussions of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and
U.S. nonproliferation policy. Analysts have identified several issues, or problems,
associated with the continuing deployment of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear
weapons. They have also identified potential policy options, or solutions, that might
resolve these problems. However, they do not all agree on the importance of the
problems or the need for the solutions. This section identifies these problems and
potential solutions and reviews the contrasting opinions about them.
48 For a more detailed discussion of Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese nuclear weapons, see
Alexander, Brian and Alistair Millar, editors, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, op cit.
Safety and Security of Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons.
Most analysts agree 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. Further, 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. Hence, these issues raise concerns about the possibility that
the weapons might be lost, stolen, or sold to other nations or groups seeking nuclear
weapons.49 Russian officials acknowledged concerns about the safety and security
of these weapons in the early 1990s, and such concerns may have contributed to
acceptance of the PNIs in 1991. But Russian officials deny that they have lost
control over any of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons and they contend that the
problems have been resolved as the weapons have been withdrawn to central storage50
areas. There is no public evidence from western sources about any episodes of lost,
sold, or stolen Russian nuclear weapons, but concerns remain that these weapons
might find their way to officials in rogue nations or non-state actors.
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s National
Security Policy. Many analysts also 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 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.
Others argue, however, that regardless of Russia’s rhetoric, “Russia’s theater
nuclear weapons are not ... destabilizing.” Even if modernized, these weapons will51
not “give Moscow the capability to alter the strategic landscape.” Further, many
49 “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.
50 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.
51 Robert Joseph, “Nuclear Weapons and Regional Deterrence,” in Larson, Jeffrey A. and
Kurt J. Klingenberger, editors, Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons: Obstacles and
doubt that Russian weapons, even with its new military strategy, pose a threat to
NATO or U.S. allies. They argue that Russia would only use these weapons in
response to a weak performance by its conventional forces in an ongoing conflict.
Since it would be extremely unlikely for NATO to be involved in a conventional
conflict with Russia, it would be extremely unlikely for Russian weapons to find
targets in NATO nations.
The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National
Security Policy. The Bush Administration has claimed, as a result of its 2001
Nuclear Posture Review, the United States has reduced its reliance on nuclear
weapons by increasing the role of missile defenses and precision conventional
weapons in the U.S. deterrent posture. However, the Administration also noted, as
a result of the Nuclear Posture Review, that the United States would no longer base
the size and structure of its nuclear forces only on “the Russian threat.” Instead, the
United States would acquire and maintain those capabilities that it needed to deter
and defend against the capabilities of any nation with the potential to threaten the
United States, particularly if the potential adversary possesses weapons of mass
destruction. It noted that these 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.
The Administration has argued that its new policy is designed to enhance
deterrence, by giving the United States more credible, “tailored” options in the event
of a conflict with a nation armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
This, however presumes that the U.S. military could identify a credible scenario that
included the option of using nuclear weapons. This may not be possible in battlefield
contingencies, when U.S. forces would be vulnerable to fallout and other nuclear
effects. Further, the use of nuclear weapons to destroy underground bunkers housing
chemical or biological weapons presumes that the United States would have the
exquisite intelligence needed to locate the bunkers with the agents. Anything less
than a direct, precise attack could disperse more agent than it destroyed.
Furthermore, such bunkers could be built within an extensive network of tunnels,
using blast doors, reinforced concrete, and other shock absorbing techniques, which
would further interfere with U.S. efforts to destroy them. In addition, the
Administration’s critics argue that, by tailoring its nuclear weapons to achieve
specific battlefield objectives, the United States would actually increase the
likelihood of nuclear use, rather than enhance nuclear deterrence. Further, they note
that the United States does not need new nuclear weapons to achieve its battlefield
objectives. It demonstrated in the early phases of the war in Iraq that its conventional
forces were more than capable of defeating an enemy and overthrowing a regime,
even one with many deeply buried targets, with relative ease.52 Therefore, the
demonstrated, overwhelming superiority of U.S. conventional forces, rather than the
Opportunities, United States Air Force, Institute for National Security Studies, July 2001.
52 William Arkin, “New Nukes? No Way,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2003.
hypothetical threat of nuclear use, would serve as a more potent deterrent in future
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, more than 15 years after the
collapse of the Warsaw Pact and demise of the Soviet Union. NATO policy still
views these 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. But, if the United
States develops new nuclear warheads that can fulfill nonstrategic missions with
delivery from a strategic platforms (such as a heavy bomber), the need for forward
basing in Europe diminishes. Hence, some believe that the blurring of the distinction
between nonstrategic and strategic delivery vehicles, along with the increasing
concerns about threats outside of Europe, have reduced the utility of forward-
deployed nuclear weapons.
Some also question whether the United States and NATO might benefit from
the removal of these weapons from bases in Europe. Recently, an Air Force Review
of nuclear surety and security practices identified potential security concerns for U.S.53
weapons stored at some bases in Europe. 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 its54
nuclear weapons at a smaller number of bases in Europe.
Some argue that reducing or eliminating the deployment of 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
The Relationship Between Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons and U.S.
Nonproliferation Policy. The Bush Administration has stated that the new U.S.
nuclear posture, along with the research into the development of new types of nuclear
warheads, contributes to U.S. efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear, chemical,
53 Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures, February
54 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-
and biological weapons. It argues that, by creating a more credible threat against the
capabilities of nations that seek these weapons, the U.S. policy deters their
acquisition or deployment. It also reinforces the value of the U.S. extended deterrent
to allies in Europe and Japan, thus discouraging them from acquiring their own
Critics of the Administration’s policy question whether the United States needs
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 claim that the U.S. policy will actually spur
proliferation, encouraging other countries to acquire their own WMD. Specifically,
they note that U.S. plans and programs 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 Administration’s critics, the United States might
ignite a new arms race if it pursues new types of nuclear weapons to achieve newly
defined battlefield objectives.56 The Administration has 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.57
Status Quo. The Bush Administration, and some analysts outside
government, argue that the United States does not have to adopt any new or different
policies to address the issues raised above. They argue that the 2001 Nuclear Posture
Review strengthened the U.S. nuclear deterrent by adjusting U.S. strategy and
doctrine to address emerging, rather than Cold War, threats. They do not believe that
these policy changes undermine U.S. nonproliferation policy or that they make the
use of nuclear weapons more likely in future conflicts.
The Bush Administration also has not adopted 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
55 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.
56 “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.
57 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.
Offensive Reductions Treaty, although Administration officials did pledge to raise
concerns about these weapons in discussions with their Russian counterparts.
However, the Administration appears to believe that any concerns about the safety
and security of these weapons can be addressed through the ongoing Cooperative
Threat Reduction Program. They argue, however, that Russian nonstrategic nuclear
weapons pose no military threat to stability or security for the United States or its
allies, and therefore, require no unilateral or cooperative responses from the United
States.58 Further, some argue 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.”59
Reduce Reliance on Nuclear Weapons. Many analysts believe the
United States should adopt a policy that reduces its reliance on nuclear weapons, in
general, and weapons with battlefield objectives, in particular. The Bush
Administration argues that its policy achieves this objective, by including missile
defenses and precision strike conventional weapons in its new “triad” of U.S. forces
and capabilities. Others, however, argue that the Administration’s policy actually
blurs the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons, and may increase
the U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons by adding to the contingencies when the United
States would consider nuclear use. They argue, instead, that the United States should
adopt a “no first use” pledge, so that the United States would make it clear that it
would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. At present, the United
States does not explicitly threaten to use nuclear weapons, but it also will not rule out
their use. Supporters of the existing policy argue that this ambiguity enhances
deterrence, by keeping the possible prospect of nuclear attack in the adversary’s
Those who support a “no first use” pledge argue that it would reduce the
perceived value of nuclear weapons, indicating that they serve only as a deterrent to
the use of nuclear weapons by other nations. Many believe that this change in policy
would not hinder U.S. deterrent strategy or U.S. security because they believe that the
U.S. nuclear deterrent is robust, with thousands of deployed nuclear warheads, and
that U.S. conventional forces are sufficient to address any potential or emerging
58 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.
59 Ibid., p. 92.
threats to U.S. security. This includes the potential need for the United States to
attack hardened and deeply buried targets, including those that might house chemical
or biological weapons. The United States could use its conventional weapons to seal
off entry and exit points and to cut off communications and ventilation,60 thereby
“sealing” chemical or biological weapons in place in their underground bunkers for
the duration of a conflict. The United States could then remove and dispose of these
weapons after winning the conflict, without risking dispersing them and creating
fallout with a nuclear attack.
Some have also argued that, if the United States and NATO reduce their reliance
on nuclear weapons, possibly even withdrawing nonstrategic nuclear weapons from
Europe, Russia might also alter its policy. Others, however, argue that Russia’s
policy is only rhetorically linked to NATO policy, and with continuing concerns
about weaknesses in its conventional forces, Russia is unlikely to respond with its
own change in policy. Some also believe that changes in U.S. and NATO policy
could affect the policies of other nations with nonstrategic nuclear weapons, such as
India, Pakistan, or China, by demonstrating that the United States has reduced its
reliance on nuclear weapons. Others, however, point out that these nations have
acquired their nuclear weapons to address their own security interests, and are
unlikely to alter limit their forces simply because the United States and NATO have
set an example of reductions.
Cooperative Responses. Analysts have noted that the only arms control
measures affecting nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the 1991 PNIs, do not require data
exchanges and did not establish monitoring provisions so each nation can be certain
that the other is adhering to its commitments. They also are voluntary; because they
are not incorporated in a formal treaty or agreement. Either side could reverse its
commitments at any time. Hence, the reductions under these measures may be
vulnerable to disruptions in the relationship between the United States and Russia.
Those who believe that U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons continue to
pose a threat to international security, either because of the prospects for loss of
control over Russian weapons, by deliberate use by either nation, or because of their
symbolic value and potential to undermine nonproliferation policies, argue that the
United States and Russia should pursue further cooperative measures to address the
perceived threats from the weapons and the perceived weaknesses in the existing
controls on them. Congress also voiced its interest in the future of these weapons.
Section 1212 of the FY2006 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-163) calls on the
Secretary of Defense to determine whether it is in the U.S. national security interest
“to identify and develop mechanisms and procedures to implement the transparent
reductions in nonstrategic nuclear weapons” and “to identify and develop
mechanisms and procedures to implement the transparent dismantlement of excess
nonstrategic nuclear weapons.”
Analysts outside government have offered several proposals for cooperative
measures that might address concerns with nonstrategic nuclear weapons. For
example, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal in early 2008, several
60 Stansfield Turner, “Nukes: Can U.S. Practice What it Preaches?,” Christian Science
Monitor, January 28, 2004.
former senior defense and national security officials argued that the United States
should “start a dialogue, including within NATO and with Russia, on consolidating
the nuclear weapons designed for forward deployment to enhance their security, and
as a first step toward careful accounting for them and their eventual elimination.”61
This proposal is a part of a larger agenda that these officials have outlined as part of
a path toward a “World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” Other analysts have proposed
a number of measures that might be taken specifically to address concerns about
nonstrategic nuclear weapons. These include:
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. 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
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. Because many nonstrategic
nuclear weapons remain at remote storage areas near former deployment areas, and
concerns remain about security at these facilities. Some analysts have suggested that
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. Others,
however, argue that the United States should only provide assistance at sites that
support the retirement or elimination of nuclear warheads and should not provide
funding for sites that can support the weapons’ continued deployment. Some have
also questioned whether Russia would accept assistance at these sites, particularly if
it were not permitted reciprocal access to U.S. weapons storage sites. Russia did,
however, recently conduct an exercise, with NATO observers and CTR funding, to
explore the vulnerability of its nuclear weapons storage sites to incursions and theft.
Negotiate a Formal Treaty. Several analysts have suggested that the United
States and Russia negotiate a formal treaty to both codify the measures outlined in
61 George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Toward a
Nuclear Free World. Wall Street Journal. January 15, 2008. p. 13.
the PNIs and to put further limits and restrictions on each nation’s nonstrategic
nuclear weapons. Such an agreement could mandate further reduction in deployed
weapons, including U.S. weapons in Europe, and could result in both nations
reducing their reliance on these weapons in their military strategies. Some analysts
have also argued that this treaty could be multilateral, to include nations such as
China, India, and Pakistan, rather than bilateral, thus introducing arms control limits
to the forces of other nations with nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
However, as have been noted throughout this report, the two sides would likely
find it difficult to agree on a definition of which weapons counted as nonstrategic
nuclear weapons, particularly if either nation begins to deploy warheads designed to
achieve battlefield objectives on long-range or strategic delivery vehicles. The issue
would be further complicated by the fact that both the United States and Russia hold
many of these warheads in storage, and some could conceivably return to deployment
in a relatively short amount of time. To address these problems, some analysts have
suggested that the arms control regime count and limit all warheads — stored and
deployed, strategic and nonstrategic, etc. This type of agreement would allow each
side to determine, for itself, the size and mix of its deployed forces, within the limits
on total warheads.62 Critics argue that such limits would be extremely difficult to
define and monitor, making it difficult to verify compliance with a warhead-control
treaty. They also note that the lack of symmetry between U.S. and Russian forces
would make it extremely difficult to find common definitions and limits that
addressed each nations’ concerns. In particular, because Russia views U.S. NATO
weapons as a threat to its security, it could insist on the complete removal of these
weapons in exchange for less comprehensive limits on the far greater numbers of
Russian forces.63 Further, the other nations with nonstrategic nuclear weapons seem
unlikely, at this time, to be willing to join a regime that would limit their capabilities.
Analysts recognize that negotiating such an agreement would be complex and
time-consuming. But it suffers from still another problem. Neither the Russian nor
U.S. governments have expressed any interest in pursuing this path. 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.
The Bush Administration has also shown no interest in negotiating further limits on
U.S. nuclear warheads or weapons. To the contrary, in the 2002 Strategic Offensive
Reductions Treaty (Moscow Treaty), the United States indicated that it would only
count “operationally deployed” strategic nuclear warheads under the limits in the
Treaty. This metric counts fewer warheads than the START Treaty, and far fewer
62 “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.
63 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.
than a metric that would include stored and deployed strategic and nonstrategic
nuclear warheads. The Bush Administration has resisted more confining arms
control measures, arguing that the United States must maintain the flexibility to
adjust its forces and redeploy warheads to respond to changes in the international
Nevertheless, analysts who view these weapons as a threat to U.S., Russian, and
international security maintain that circumstances could change and a bilateral or
multilateral treaty could address many concerns. For example, if the United States
and NATO reconsider the military utility of forward deployed nuclear weapons, and
as Russia’s economy and conventional forces recover more of their stability, both
sides might grow more willing to accept limits on their forces if it allows for greater
openness and transparency at both storage and deployment areas. Although it is
harder to imagine other nations relinquishing their nonstrategic nuclear weapons,
some contend that a treaty that established a norm against nonstrategic nuclear
weapons, combined with diplomatic efforts to address security concerns, could alter
the perceptions of these nations, as well.