Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons Updated July 15, 2021 Congressional Research Service

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CRS RL32572 Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons-2020
CRS RL32572 Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons-2020
Arms Control Options
Concerns about the disparity between the numbers of US. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons have dominated discussions about possible arms control measures addressing nonstrategic nuclear weapons. But the United States and Russia have never employed their nonstrategic nuclear weapons to counter, or balance, the nonstrategic nuclear weapons of the other side. For NATO during the Cold War and for Russia in more recent years, these weapons have served to counter perceived weaknesses and an imbalance in conventional forces. As a result, there has been little interest, until recently, in calculating or creating a balance in the numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Some who have expressed a concern about the numerical imbalance in nonstrategic nuclear weapons argue that this imbalance could become more important as the United States and Russia reduce their numbers of strategic nuclear weapons. They fear that NATO nations located near
Russia’s borders may feel threatened or intimidated by Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons. They assert that Russia’s advantage in the numbers of these weapons, when combined with a reduction in US. strategic forces, could convince these nations that Russia was the rising power in the region, and that they should, therefore, accede to Russia’s political or economic pressure. Others, however, have questioned this logic. They agree that Russia’s ability to intimidate, and possibly attack, NATO nations on its periphery maybe related to the capabilities of Russia’s conventional forces and the existence of Russia’s nuclear forces. But this ability would exist whether Russia had dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons in the region. And NATO’s ability to resist Russian pressure and support vulnerable allies would be related more to its political cohesion and overall military capabilities than to the precise number of nuclear weapons that were deployed on European territory. Moreover, some note that, in spite of Russia’s advantage in the aggregate number on nonstrategic nuclear weapons, many of Russia’s weapons maybe deployed at bases closer to its border with China than its borders with NATO nations, so many of these weapons should not count in the balance at all.

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