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Contents Introduction Background The Distinction Between Strategic and Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons Definition by Observable Capabilities Definition by Exclusion U.S. and Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War Strategy and Doctrine Force Structure Soviet Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War Strategy and Doctrine Force Structure The 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives U.S. Initiative Soviet and Russian Initiatives U.S. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War Strategy and Doctrine Force Structure Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War Strategy and Doctrine Force Structure Changing the Focus of the Debate Issues for Congress Safety and Security of Russian Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia's National Security Policy The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National Security Policy The Role of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in NATO Policy and Alliance Strategy The Relationship Between Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons and U.S. Nonproliferation Policy Policy Options Increase Transparency Expand Threat Reduction Assistance Negotiate a Formal Treaty Contacts Author Contact Information
February 2, 2011
During the Senate debate on the new U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, many Senators raised questions about Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and noted their absence from the treaty limits. The United States and Russia have not included limits on these weapons in past arms control agreements. Nevertheless, Congress may press the Administration to seek solutions to the potential risks presented by these weapons in the future.
During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union both deployed nonstrategic nuclear weapons for use in the field during a conflict. While there are several possible ways to distinguish between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons, most analysts consider nonstrategic weapons to be shorter-range delivery systems with lower yield warheads that the United States and Soviet Union/Russia might use to attack troops or facilities on the battlefield. They have included nuclear mines; artillery; short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles; cruise missiles; and gravity bombs. In contrast with the longer-range "strategic" nuclear weapons, these weapons had a lower profile in policy debates and arms control negotiations, possibly because they did not pose a direct threat to the continental United States. At the end of the 1980s, each nation still had thousands of these weapons deployed with their troops in the field, aboard naval vessels, and on aircraft.
In 1991, both the United States and Soviet Union announced that they would withdraw from deployment most and eliminate from their arsenals many of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The United States now has 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 2,000 and 6,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its arsenal. The Bush Administration quietly redeployed and removed some of the nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. Russia, however seems to have increased its reliance on nuclear weapons in its national security concept. Some analysts argue that Russia has backed away from its commitments from 1991 and may develop and deploy new types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Analysts have identified a number of issues with the continued deployment of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons. These include questions about the safety and security of Russia's weapons and the possibility that some might be lost, stolen, or sold to another nation or group; questions about the role of these weapons in U.S. and Russian security policy; questions about the role that these weapons play in NATO policy and whether there is a continuing need for the United States to deploy them at bases overseas; and questions about the relationship between nonstrategic nuclear weapons and U.S. nonproliferation policy.
Some argue that these weapons do not create any problems and the United States should not alter its policy. Others argue that the United States should reduce its reliance on these weapons and encourage Russia to do the same. Many have suggested that the United States and Russia expand efforts to cooperate on ensuring the safe and secure storage and elimination of these weapons, possibly by negotiating an arms control treaty that would limit these weapons and allow for increased transparency in monitoring their deployment and elimination. Others have suggested that any potential new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty count both strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. This, they say, might encourage reductions or the elimination of these weapons. The 112th Con gress may review some of these proposals. This report will be updated as needed.
During the Senate debate on the new U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, many Members noted that this treaty did not impose any limits on nonstrategic, or shorter-range, nuclear weapons. Many also noted that Russia possessed a far greater number of these shorter-range systems than did the United States. Some expressed particular concerns about the threat that Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons might pose to U.S. allies in Europe; others argued that these weapons might be vulnerable to theft or sale to nations or groups seeking their own nuclear weapons. In response to these concerns, the Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification on New START, stated that the United States should seek to initiate within one year, "negotiations with the Russian Federation on an agreement to address the disparity between the non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner." (1)
The United States and Russia have not included limits on nonstrategic nuclear weapons in past arms control agreements. Nevertheless, the attention paid to these weapons during the debate on New START indicates that some Members in the 112th Congress may press the Administration to seek solutions to the potential risks presented by nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
This report provides basic information about U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It begins with a brief discussion of how these weapons have appeared in public debates in the past few decades, then summarizes the differences between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It then provides some historical background, describing the numbers and types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons deployed by both nations during the Cold War and in the past decade; the policies that guided the deployment and prospective use of these weapons; and the measures that the two sides have taken to reduce and contain their forces. The report reviews the issues that have been raised with regard to U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and summarizes a number of policy options that might be explored by Congress, the United States, Russia, and other nations to address these issues.
During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were central to the U.S. strategy of deterring Soviet aggression against the United States and U.S. allies. Towards this end, the United States deployed a wide variety of systems that could carry nuclear warheads. These included nuclear mines; artillery; short, medium, and long range ballistic missiles; cruise missiles; and gravity bombs. The United States deployed these weapons with its troops in the field, aboard aircraft, on surface ships, on submarines, and in fixed, land-based launchers. The United States articulated a complex strategy, and developed detailed operational plans, that would guide the use of these weapons in the event of a conflict with the Soviet Union and its allies.
During the Cold War, most public discussions about U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons--including discussions about perceived imbalances between the two nations' forces and discussions about the possible use of arms control measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war and limit or reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons--focused on long-range, or strategic, nuclear weapons. These include long-range land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers that carry cruise missiles or gravity bombs. These were the weapons that the United States and Soviet Union deployed so that they could threaten destruction of central military, industrial, and leadership facilities in the other country--the weapons of global nuclear war. But both nations also deployed thousands of nuclear weapons outside their own territories with their troops in the field. These weapons usually had less explosive power and were deployed with launchers that would deliver them across shorter ranges than strategic nuclear weapons. They were intended for use by troops on the battlefield or within the theater of battle to achieve more limited, or tactical, objectives.
These "nonstrategic" nuclear weapons did not completely escape public discussion or arms control debates. Their profile rose in the early 1980s when U.S. plans to deploy new cruise missiles and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe, as a part of NATO's nuclear strategy, ignited large public protests in many NATO nations. Their high profile returned later in the decade when the United States and Soviet Union signed the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and eliminated medium and intermediate range ballistic and cruise missiles. Then, in 1991, President George Bush, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, each announced that they would withdraw from deployment most of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons and eliminate many of them.
These 1991 announcements, coming after the abortive coup in Moscow in July 1991, but months before the December 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, responded to growing concerns about the safety and security of Soviet nuclear weapons at a time of growing political and economic upheaval in that nation. It also allowed the United States to alter its forces in response to easing tensions and the changing international security environment. Consequently, for many in the general public, these initiatives appeared to resolve the problems associated with nonstrategic nuclear weapons. As a result, although the United States and Russia included these weapons in some of their arms control discussions, most of their arms control efforts during the rest of that decade focused on strategic weapons, with efforts made to implement the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and negotiate deeper reductions in strategic nuclear weapons.
The lack of public attention did not, however, reflect a total absence of questions or concerns about nonstrategic nuclear weapons. In 1997, President Clinton and Russia's President Boris Yeltsin signed a framework agreement that stated they would address measures related to nonstrategic nuclear weapons in a potential START III Treaty. Further, during the 1990s, outside analysts, officials in the U.S. government, and many Members of Congress raised continuing questions about the safety and security of Russia's remaining nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Congress sought a more detailed accounting of Russia's weapons in legislation passed in the late 1990s. Analysts also questioned the role that these weapons might play in Russia's evolving national security strategy, the rationale for their continued deployment in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and their relationship to U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, also reminded people of the catastrophic consequences that might ensue if terrorists were to acquire and use nuclear weapons, with continuing attention focused on the potentially insecure stock of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
The George W. Bush Administration did not adopt an explicit policy of reducing or eliminating nonstrategic nuclear weapons. When it announced the results of its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in early 2002, it did not outline any changes to the U.S. deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons at bases in Europe; it stated that NATO would address the future of those weapons. Although there was little public discussion of this issue during the Bush Administration, reports indicate that the United States did redeploy and withdraw some of its nonstrategic nuclear weapons from bases in Greece, Germany, and the United Kingdom. (2)
The Bush Administration also did not discuss these weapons with Russia during arms control negotiations in 2002. Instead, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (Moscow Treaty), signed in June 2002, limited only the number of operationally deployed warheads on strategic nuclear weapons. When asked about the absence of these weapons in the Moscow Treaty, then Secretary of State Powell noted that the treaty was not intended to address these weapons, although the parties could address questions about the safety and security of these weapons during less formal discussions. (3) These discussions, however, never occurred.
Nevertheless, Congress remained concerned about the potential risks associated with Russia's continuing deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The FY2006 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-163) contained two provisions that called for further study on these weapons. Section 1212 mandated that the Secretary of Defense submit a report that would determine whether increased transparency and further reductions in U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons were in the U.S. national security interest; Section 3115 called on the Secretary of Energy to submit a report on what steps the United States might take to bring about progress in improving the accounting for and security of Russia's nonstrategic nuclear weapons. In the 109th Congress, H.R. 5017, a bill to ensure implementation of the 9/11 Commission Report recommendations, included a provision (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 would have 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.
Several events in the past few years have served to elevate the profile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in debates about the future of U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policy. For example, in January 2007, four senior statesmen published an article in the Wall Street Journal that highlighted the continuing threat posed by the existence, and proliferation, of nuclear weapons. (4) They called on leaders in nations with nuclear weapons to adopt the goal of seeking a world free of nuclear weapons. After acknowledging that that this was a long-term enterprise, they identified a number of urgent, near-term steps that these nations might take. They included among these steps a call for nations to eliminate "short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed." In a subsequent article published in January 2008, they elaborated on this step, calling for "a dialogue, including within NATO and with Russia, on consolidating the nuclear weapons designed for forward deployment to enhance their security, as a first step toward careful accounting for them and their eventual elimination." They noted, specifically, that "these smaller and more portable nuclear weapons are, given their characteristics, inviting acquisition targets for terrorist groups." (5)
In addition, as a part of its renewed interest in the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, Congress established, in the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill (P.L. 110-181 Sec. 1062), a Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. The Congressional Commission, which issued its report in April 2009, briefly addressed the role of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy and noted that these weapons can help the United States assure its allies of the U.S. commitment to their security. It also noted concerns about the imbalance in the numbers of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons and mentioned that Russia had increased its reliance on these weapons to compensate for weaknesses in its conventional forces. (6)
The 110th Congress also mandated (P.L. 110-181, Sec. 1070) that the next Administration conduct a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).The Obama Administration completed this NPR in early April 2010. This study identified a number of steps the United States would take to reduce the roles and numbers of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. A few of these steps, including the planned retirement of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles, affected U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons. At the same time, though, the NPR recognized the role that U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons play in assuring U.S. allies of the U.S. commitment to their security. It indicated that the United States would "retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers" and that the United States would seek to "expand consultations with allies and partners to address how to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the U.S. extended deterrent. No changes in U.S. extended deterrence capabilities will be made without close consultations with our allies and partners." (7)
Discussions about the presence of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons at bases in Europe and their role in NATO's strategy also increased in 2009 and 2010, during the drafting of NATO's new strategic concept in November 2009. Officials in some NATO nations called for the removal of U.S. nonstrategic weapons from bases on the continent, noting that they had no military significance for NATO's security. Others called for the retention of these weapons, arguing both that they played a political role in NATO and that they helped balance Russia's deployment of greater numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. When it was published, the Strategic Concept did not call for the removal of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It stated that "deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy." In also indicated that "the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote," but indicated that "as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance." It then concluded that NATO would "maintain an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces." (8)
The Distinction Between Strategic and Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons