3 September 2017

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Russia’s evolving military doctrine

Why does Russia need so many nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs), which are considered by some observers to be an irrelevant relic of the Cold War with little use in actual, present-day warfighting? The question is all the more acute given that Russia has conducted a sweeping military modernization program since 2008, significantly improving its general-purpose forces and thereby seemingly reducing the need to rely on nuclear weapons. Yet Russia’s nonstrategic (also known as tactical) nuclear weapons continue to play a central role in its military doctrine – and if anything, the weapons’ role has increased in the post-Cold War security environment. Initially, they were viewed as a way of compensating for Russia’s military-technological inferiority after the collapse of the Soviet Union, giving the country some breathing space until Russia would have the wherewithal to boost its conventional power – especially in the research and development of high-precision conventional weapons that could be an alternative to nuclear munitions. Indeed, in recent years, Russia has increased its focus on developing nonnuclear deterrence capabilities. That said, NSNWs remain an integral element in the evolving Russian military strategy, combining a set of cross-domain deterrence options including strategic and nonstrategic nuclear, strategic conventional, and nonmilitary ways and means. Read this article from the September/October issue of the digital Journal.